Will anti-coal campaign leave economic ruin in its wake for coal-dependent communities? –
By Patricia Beech –
In the weeks since DP&L and Sierra Club reached an agreement in principle that could retire the Killen and Stuart plants, potentially laying off hundreds of workers and dealing a significant economic blow to local communities, many people are asking the same question – what is Sierra Club and why are their interests in this issue given precedence over local concerns?
Founded by the legendary Scottish-American preservationist John Muir in 1892, Sierra Club is a grassroots environmental organization that was instrumental in protecting millions of acres of wilderness in the U.S. including: Yellowstone Park, Glacier Park, Mount Rainier Park, and the Yosemite Valley.
Today, with the support of multiple billionaires, led by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, it has emerged as America’s largest and most influential environmental organization with over two million members and supporters.
In recent years the Sierra Club has worked to help pass the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and more recently has led the charge to move away from the use of fossil fuels suspected of causing climate disruption toward a clean energy economy.
Through its “Beyond Coal” campaign, the organization set a goal to close half of all U.S. coal-fired plants by 2017. To date, the campaign reports that 187 power-generating plants have been either shuttered, slated for closure, or refitted to accommodate natural gas.
The Stuart and Killen plants, according to Sierra Club, are among the largest remaining sources of pollution in the U.S. impacting downwind residents all the way to the Atlantic coast.
The organization claims the plant closures would “reduce air pollution and save $37 million annually in health care costs by preventing more than 1,200 asthma attacks, 100 heart attacks and nearly 100 deaths”.
While retiring the plants may improve health and air quality, coal-dependent communities like Adams County are left to wonder how they will survive the economic impact.
“Without a doubt, Sierra Club believes wholeheartedly in their anti-coal mission,” Adams County Commissioner Brian Baldridge said. “But, I also believe they care about how their stance affects communities like ours that depend on coal-fired plants for jobs, infrastructure, and tax revenue.”
Baldridge argues that equal consideration should be given to all those impacted by the “Beyond Coal” campaign.
“Obviously Sierra Club puts their number one goal first – closing down power plants, then secondly, helping communities transition away from coal,” says Baldridge. “I would like to see them merge the two goals, instead of wiping out coal and then worrying about what happens to the affected communities. I believe it should more of dual approach that keeps everyone involved on an equal footing.”