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Sierra Club

In a victory for clean air and local residents’ health, Ohio-based First Energy Corp. announced the retirements of three of its coal-fired power plants in West Virginia. The plants are slated to close Sept. 1, 2012. The Feb. 8 news follows last month’s retirements of six of First Energy’s coal plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

First Energy announced the retirements of three plants—Albright Power Station, Willow Island Power Station and Rivesville Power Station. In total, these closures will bring 660 megawatts of dirty, dangerous pollution to an end. The retirements represent a major improvement in the lives of local residents, who have been exposed to the pollution from these plants for decades.

Pollution from coal-fired power plants contributes to respiratory illnesses and asthma attacks, heart disease and cancer. Closure of these three plants will prevent approximately 40 premature deaths, 64 heart attacks and 620 asthma attacks, according to the Clean Air Task Force.

“This is good news for West Virginia, because those plants will no longer be polluting our air and water like they have been for sixty years. We want to ensure that the company has made a commitment to their workforce’s welfare once these plants close,” said Jim Sconyers, chair of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.

In recent years West Virginia has made investments in clean energy, especially wind generation, allowing old plants like these to be retired while ensuring West Virginia’s power is reliable. “These plants were outdated, did not even operate most of the time and lacked modern pollution controls. As we increase our share of renewable energy like wind and solar power, old and unsafe plants like these, which roar to life only at certain times, will be replaced by clean energy,” said Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign director and West Virginia native Mary Anne Hitt. “This means affordable power you can count on during the hottest and coldest days and cleaner, safer air for our children and families.”

Together, the plants employed about 105 workers. Rivesville’s workforce had previously been transferred as that station ramped down operations, and First Energy has announced that many will be transferred to other facilities. First Energy has also recently begun an energy efficiency project which will result in local jobs and lower electricity bills. “Closing these old dirty plants is only the beginning of the responsibility that First Energy owes to the surrounding communities. Instead of using public health safeguards as an excuse for the closure of three old and unnecessary plants, they need to increase investments in energy efficiency and create new jobs to assist the workers and community with a smooth transition to a clean energy future,” said Sierra Club environmental justice organizing representative Bill Price.

The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign works in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and a nationwide coalition of allies to retire one-third of the nation's aging coal plants by 2020, replacing them with clean energy like wind and solar by 2030.

“This is a great development for the Beyond Coal Campaign," said Michael R. Bloomberg, philanthropist and mayor of New York City. “We have been witnessing the end of our dependency on coal and the move toward a cleaner energy future for quite some time now. Ending coal power production is the right thing to do, because while it may seem to be an inexpensive energy source, the impact on our environment and the impact on public health outcomes are significant."  

Coal plants are the largest sources of climate disruption and toxic air pollution like mercury, soot and carbon pollution. These three plants bring the tally of coal plant retirements to 95 since the Sierra Club began its Beyond Coal campaign in 2002.

For more information on the Beyond Coal campaign, click here.

For more information, click here.

Environmental Integrity Project

Late last week, First Energy announced that it will close the R. Paul Smith plant in Williamsport, Md. by Sept. 1, 2012. Based on the most recent emissions data, Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) expects the closure to reduce annual emissions of carbon dioxide by more than 200,000 tons annually, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by at least 2,000 tons, and particulate matter by 120 tons. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide contribute to fine particle pollution that is known to cause heart disease and premature death. Nitrogen oxide pollution creates ozone and contributes to nutrient overloading in the Chesapeake Bay.

Since 2010, EIP and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) have been leading regulatory and legal challenges to the plant in Maryland, which has not installed pollution controls to comply with environmental laws and protect public health.

“First Energy made a responsible decision to retire an old and dirty power plant,” said Jennifer Peterson, an attorney with EIP. “Shutting down the R. Paul Smith plant opens the door for clean energy sources, and cleaner air and water for Maryland communities.”

The plant, built in 1947, is unable to comply with Maryland’s Healthy Air Act and had been put under intense pressure to clean up or close down by local citizens and environmental groups. The plant is one of six aging power plants in three states to be shut down by First Energy by Sept. 1, 2012 due to an inability to meet new federal and state environmental standards.

“This is a victory both for children’s lungs and for efforts to fight climate change in Maryland,” said Mike Tidwell, CCAN director. “One less plant that burns dirty coal is one more step toward a real energy solution that includes wind and solar and energy efficiency.”

For more information, click here.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Appalachian Voices

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released guidelines Dec. 21 that will save lives and protect human health from dangerous heavy metals like mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants.

A big thanks goes out to all of you who took the time to let the EPA know why clean air and water are important to you—this is your victory to celebrate.

These guidelines are important for protecting vulnerable populations like women of child-bearing age, babies, small children and the elderly. Mercury accumulates in fish, making them unsafe to eat. Other forms of air pollution contribute to asthma and other respiratory issues.

EPA’s guidelines are expected to prevent up to:

  • 17,000 premature death
  • 4,300 cases of chronic bronchitis
  • 110,000 children’s asthma attacks
  • 830,000 lost work days

Good public health policy is also good economic policy. The EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce this pollution, we stand to gain $5-$13 in health benefits.

As we celebrate this victory during the holiday season, we are once again reminded of the tremendous power of people like you speaking up for the things they value most.

It's been a tough year for those who care deeply about clean air and water. We have witnessed a slew of congressional attacks on our right to clean air and water, spurred on by the coal industry. This year, more than 190 votes were cast to weaken environmental protections, with 28 of those votes designed to undermine Clean Water Act protections.

There are more challenges ahead in the new year. With tomorrow marking the 3rd anniversary of the largest coal ash disaster at a TVA plant in Tennessee, the EPA has yet to issue standards on coal ash diposal and storage—and some members of Congress are trying to make sure the EPA doesn't get the chance.

Thank the EPA for standing up for healthy communities, and encourage them to continue to protect our waterways from coal pollution.

For more information, click here.

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