This post was co-written by Mary Anne Hitt, deputy director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.

We’re celebrating great news out of Minnesota and South Dakota this week:

After almost five years of planning and permitting efforts, the participating utilities in the proposed Big Stone II Project announced … Monday that they will end their quest to build the project’s large coal-fired power plant and associated transmission facilities.

We echo our own Cesia Kearns, a Sierra Club staffer from Minnesota, in what the halting of Big Stone II means for the region.

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The failure of this enormous proposed coal plant expansion unravels the myth that the Midwest is starving for more electricity, and that coal is the only way to adequately meet that perceived need. This victory demonstrates that even when we may lose the battles — consistent pressure, engaged citizens, and strong partnerships can win the war. It’s a strong example of how even though the regulators may be on the side of a developer, the public is not.

We salute our tough band of local residents in South Dakota and Minnesota (the plant was proposed for northeastern South Dakota, near the border with Minnesota), who spent the last five years fighting this dirty coal plant. The Sierra Club also partnered with grassroots, state, and regional organizations during this long and difficult campaign. They knew how bad the air pollution and global warming contributions this plant would spew forth would be, they wanted clean energy for their region, and even when the going got tough, they never gave up.

Stopping the Big Stone II project prevented about 4.7 million tons of CO2, or the equivalent of the pollution from roughly 670,000 cars (substantially more than all the cars in South Dakota) from entering the atmosphere every year.

The residents so entrenched in this fight against Big Stone II helped lead a long fight against the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for its issuance of an air pollution permit for the plant and, equally important, an enforcement action targeting the existing coal-fired unit at the Big Stone facility for past violations of the Clean Air Act.   We also challenged the state of South Dakota’s Clean Air Act plan for failure to comply with federal law.

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Kearns added that one noteworthy example of the grassroots push for clean energy was the mention of Sierra Club’s “footprint petition” in the administrative law judge’s written recommendation to the Minn. Public Utilities Commission to deny the certificate of need for Big Stone II’s transmission lines.

“The footprint petition was a long swath of fabric with the signatures and outlines of the footprints of over 2,000 Minnesotans who wanted to see global warming solutions in Minnesota,” explained Kearns. “It was presented to the administrative law judge during a public hearing in Ortonville, Minn. — the town closest to the location of the proposed plant.”

This plant’s demise is also a sign of impending climate legislation. Otter Tail Power had pulled out of this plant back in September, citing, among other reasons, “a high level of uncertainty associated with proposed federal climate legislation and existing federal environmental regulation.”

No other utilities stepped in to take over the Big Stone II expansion themselves — because the companies all know that this legislation is coming.

Coal power is not the future of U.S. energy.The public is speaking up for more clean energy. And from coast to coast, that voice is getting louder every day.

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