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April 09, 2013

Climate and Clean Energy Events Nationwide: Fighting for Environmental Justice in Omaha

Stand With The Planet eventsEver since President Obama invited the American public to a national climate conversation, thousands of Americans have taken him up on that offer by participating in town hall meetings held by the Sierra Club and our allies.

I'd like to highlight one of these events I found particularly powerful and worthy of more attention.

North Omaha, Nebraska, is home to one of the dirtiest coal plants in the nation, the North Omaha coal plant operated by Omaha Public Power District. The NAACP ranked it the 16th worst environmental justice offender in the nation (although with recent coal plant closures and retirements, it's now in the top ten).

This coal plant is poisoning the air in the neighborhood. According to Graham Jordison, a Beyond Coal organizer in North Omaha, "North Omaha is largely an African American population with an average household income of $17,000. The asthma rate in this community is 20%."

To that end, the Sierra Club has been working with allies such as Black Men United and The Malcolm X Foundation to move beyond coal and secure more clean energy for Omaha and the entire state. The fight for clean air in Omaha has even started new partnerships in the city: the NAACP's Omaha branch spoke out at a recent Omaha Public Power District board meeting, voicing concerns about the North Omaha coal plant and air pollution.

Another reason moving beyond coal in Nebraska is so exciting? The state's enormous clean energy potential.

"Nebraska is the state with the nation's fourth greatest potential for wind energy and is ranked ninth for solar power potential," said Graham.

Graham said the local partners have organized many community meetings to educate and organize residents. They've held energy efficiency forums and more - but in the past few weeks came two events that show the power of North Omaha's families.

"First, a record number of people showed up to Omaha Public Power Districts board meeting to deliver comments on retiring the North Omaha coal plant," said  Graham. "They got an immediate response from the board and a promise from the CEO, Gary Gates, to meet in the following weeks.

"Then on March 23 we had an environmental justice forum at the Malcolm X Foundation (birth site of Malcolm X) that turned out a record number of people and spurred some deep discussion on the coal plant and environmental racism."

North Omaha's residents - and Americans nationwide - know that coal poisons our air and water. They're tired of the asthma attacks, the ER visits, the code red air quality days where kids can't play outside.

I'm inspired by the people of North Omaha and the amazing community partnerships forming locally. There are faith groups, the NAACP, the Sierra Club, and so many others who are committed clean air and local clean energy development. They know the future is brighter without coal, that clean energy and energy efficiency create jobs and won't cause asthma attacks.

Graham says it best: "We are building a powerful movement here in Omaha! We are rich with passion and we are winning!"

Find more great clean energy events and climate town halls on our StandWithThePlanet.com website.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director


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