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June 05, 2012

Message to Coal: Take Your Email and Shove It

MichiganThe customer is always right.

Perhaps some utilities have forgotten that timeless piece of wisdom. Such as Cherryland Electric Cooperative, for instance, which received a harsh backlash after it asked its co-op membership last week to complain to the Environmental Protection Agency over new pollution standards that will clear the air and save lives.

Last week, the general manager of Cherryland Electric's Cooperative -- a Michigan rural electric cooperative -- sent email to co-op members (member-owner customers) in Northern Lower Michigan asking them to contact the EPA -- even though these new standards will improve their breathing air.

Instead, outrage flew right back into the faces of Cherryland. Michiganders are tired of what they've been forced to breathe. In Michigan alone, over 225,000 children suffer from asthma, according to an American Lung Associate estimate.

"I'm disappointed, but not surprised, by this request for co-op members to oppose the EPA standard. There are many reasons to move away from coal and yet our local cooperatives continue to insist otherwise," said Mo Charbonneau, Traverse City resident and Cherryland member. "Co-ops are wonderful business models, but in this case our electric cooperative has lost the original intent of social responsibility in favor of defending coal plants that are environmentally destructive and financially prohibitive."

Despite growing opposition from Cherryland's customer base, Cherryland supports a plan drafted by its power supply cooperative, Wolverine Power, to build a costly new coal plant that will cost Cherryland members a bundle and stick them with more pollution. State officials believe a new coal plant would raise electric rates by $77 a month for Michigan families. The same projections state that 26 percent of Wolverine's cooperative members currently live below the poverty level.

"Instead of tying us to dirty fuels of the past like coal, it's time for Cherryland and the other Wolverine Power Cooperative members to focus on clean, renewable sources," said Tiffany Hartung, a Sierra Club organizer in Michigan. "Investing in clean-energy projects for Michigan will create good-paying and long-lasting careers for workers, and reduce energy costs for families and the health threats presented by coal."

Pollution from coal plants causes over 13,000 premature deaths, 200,000 asthma attacks, and more than $100 billion in health costs each year across the country. The EPA is doing its part to fix these numbers. Shouldn't Cherryland clean up its act first before complaining about much-needed regulations that will help the living standards of their own customers?

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