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April 29, 2011

Pacific Northwest to Become First Coal-Free Region in United States

Windmill Sierra Club Deputy Conservation Director Bruce Nilles today joined Washington Governor Chris Gregoire in Centralia, Washington as the Governor signed a bill to systematically end the burning of coal in the state of Washington.

The bill formalizes a landmark agreement between the Sierra Club, Governor Gregoire and TransAlta – the owner of the only coal-fired power plant in the state – which will phase-out the massive 1,400 megawatt TransAlta plant between 2020 and 2025.  Washington now joins Oregon in approving a plan to phase-out the destructive use of coal-fired power, setting the Pacific Northwest on a path to becoming the nation’s first coal-free region.

“This is what significant progress fighting climate disruption looks like,” said Andrew Rose, a Sierra Club volunteer who worked on the multi-year effort by the national grassroots environmental organization.  “Coal is the worst climate and health polluter in the world and today, Washington is taking a big step toward finally moving beyond coal.”

Today’s bill signing is an especially important step toward combating climate disruption given recent inaction on the federal level. 

“In the great American tradition, people in the states are leading and eventually Congress will follow,” said Nilles.  “It is in this tradition that we are here today to celebrate a state’s common sense solution to a global problem.   By reaching an agreement to phase out the TransAlta plant over the next fourteen years in an orderly manner, Washington State is showing Washington D.C. not only that it can be done, but how it can be done.”

The agreement to phase-out the Centralia coal-fired power plant is another notable victory for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.  Thanks in part to the work of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, plans for 152 new coal plants have been shelved since the beginning of the coal rush, keeping more than 570 million tons of carbon pollution out of the atmosphere and encouraging America to follow the path to a new clean energy economy.

“This victory is a testament to the hard work of dedicated community members and passionate volunteers who simply want to protect their neighborhoods and their family’s health from coal’s toxic pollution,” said Doug Howell, Washington Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.  “We are incredibly grateful for the hard work of not only the great Sierra Club volunteers, but also for the allies who helped achieve this progress.”

The Sierra Club worked with conservation, public health, faith and clean energy advocates, including the Northwest Energy Coalition, the Washington Environmental Council, Climate Solutions, the National Parks Conservation Association, Earthjustice and Earth Ministry to advocate for sensible solutions to the grave problems presented by TransAlta’s pollution.  The coal-fired power plant endangered the health of people in Washington by emitting toxic pollutants such as mercury, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter into Washington’s air and water.

“Coal is incredibly dangerous to our health, and coal’s pollution contributes to four of the five leading causes of death in the United States,” said Rose.  “This agreement is both literally and figuratively a breath of fresh air for families across the state.”

In addition to the large coalition of conservation and clean energy advocates sharing in today’s celebration, the Sierra Club worked with members of the Washington labor union community to reach the landmark agreement that was ratified today. 

“As a co-founder of the national Blue-Green Alliance, the Sierra Club has a proud tradition of working with labor unions to achieve shared goals – good, family-wage jobs for the Americans building the clean energy economy that will power our country sustainably and safely,” said Howell.  “The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers deserves a lot of credit for their part in helping to ensure that Washington’s necessary transition away from coal includes community economic development and local energy efficiency improvement.”

Importantly, the agreement establishes a transition fund that will help the Centralia community move away from relying on the plant.  Not only will $30 million be invested in direct economic development and energy efficiency in the Centralia community, but an additional $25 million will be invested in clean energy technology development that will help reduce Washington’s carbon pollution.

“As the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign transitions from stopping the development of new coal-fired power plants to working to phase-out existing plants, this agreement will serve as a blueprint,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “This proves that we can strengthen economies as we protect communities from coal’s pollution.”

The agreement calls for one of the Centralia plant’s two coal-fired boilers to be retired in 2020, with the second boiler scheduled to be retired by 2025.  Both boilers will install pollution controls in 2013 that will reduce the amount of health-threatening nitrogen oxide pollution from the plant.

“This agreement reflects a reasonable and thoughtful approach to a complex situation,” said Howell.  “Retiring this plant will protect the families and national parks that have for four decades been choking on this plant’s pollution.  The orderly retirement will also ensure that the Centralia community will be protected during the transition away from coal.

“We are very grateful for the leadership of Governor Gregoire and the willingness of TransAlta to find a solution that works for all interested parties and brings an end to coal-fired power in Washington,” added Howell.

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