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June 11, 2014

Mass. Activists Cheer Coal Plant Retirement, Call for Transition Plan

Coal free MA press conf
Residents of Holyoke, Massachusetts, are cheering the retirement of the local Mt. Tom coal plant, knowing that its significant air pollution will soon end. Last week the plant's owners, GDF Suez, announced that the plant will cease operations in October 2014.

This is a major victory for the many local clean air advocates, including Coal Free Massachusetts, of which Sierra Club Massachusetts is a founding member, and which represents more than 100 public health, environmental justice, faith, student, and business organizations including Neighbor to Neighbor and Action for a Healthy Holyoke (AHH!). For years members of these groups have been writing letters, holding rallies, protesting, speaking at public hearings, and more to urge the retirement of the plant because of its public health and environmental effects.

Coal free MA signs"The asthma rate in Holyoke is twice the state average and my wife suffers from terrible asthma herself," said Carlos Rodriguez a community leader in AHH! and Neighbor to Neighbor, "so, while we are very glad to know our air will be cleaner, responsible retirement also means working with our community and the workers for clean up and transition."

James McCaffrey of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign in Massachusetts says that GDF Suez has committed to honoring the duration of the plant's union contract which expires in October.

"This is a great start, but we still need to do more," McCaffrey said. "The state has committed $100,000 through Coal Free Massachusetts supported legislation that passed last year for reuse and planning for the host community of Holyoke, and we hope the legislature and Governor Patrick will take steps now to provide meaningful support for municipal revenues and the workers."

Community members are not only concerned about the plant's workers and the economic effect on the community, but also about making sure the Mt. Tom site is fully cleaned up.

Coal free MA"I am nervous about the contamination in the ground," said Carmelo Diaz, also of Neighbor to Neighbor and Action for a Healthy Holyoke, "back in Puerto Rico I’ve seen a coal plant that closed without cleaning up its mess."

GDF Suez is considering repurposing the Mt. Tom site as a solar farm, and McCaffrey says Coal-Free Massachusetts and the coalition are working with the administration, legislature, and GDF to assure that all regulatory and legislative components are in place to help clean up the site and possibly repurpose it for renewable energy.

McCaffrey credits the powerful group of local activists with the success over the filthy Mt. Tom coal plant. "We've pressured both the state and the Environmental Protection Agency for stronger air and water permits, engaged with grassroots and community leaders, and worked directly with the company."

They know the work isn't done yet, but the Mt. Tom retirement announcement is a great boost for lovers of clean air and clean water in western Massachusetts.

-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club

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