This summer's grassroots effort in Eliot, Maine, against a nearby coal plant isn't a new local concern, says Sierra Club activist Kim Richards, who has been leading the fight.
"I have been living in Eliot almost my entire life," she says, "and people here in town have been concerned about the potential negatives effects of living so close to the plant essentially ever since it began operations in 1949."
Eliot is on the downwind receiving end of pollution from the Schiller coal plant just over the state line in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. So two years ago, Kim and other Sierra Club volunteers and organizers decided to bring the fight back to Big Coal. Earlier this summer, Eliot activists organized their neighbors to get the town's Board of Selectmen to lead public hearings and hold a town vote on sending a Good Neighbor petition to the EPA. Despite the coal plant's public relations efforts, more than 60 percent of the town's citizens recently voted in favor of petitioning the EPA.
Kim's leadership proved key in getting the petition passed. "It's worth pausing to note that this story is yet another example of the true power of local, grassroots organizing to overcome wealthy private interests," says Sierra Club Maine Chapter Director Glen Brand.
Kim's activism was spurred on by the "black sooty film" that builds up on homes and cars in south Eliot -- something locals have endured for decades. Schiller at one point even paid for certain homes to be re-painted. But it wasn't until Kim began researching the impacts of coal two years ago that she took action.
"I was trying to see if there was any connection between Schiller and the alarming number of cancer cases in our areas, particularly from my parents' generation," she says. "That's when I found an article about the air modeling report that was commissioned by the Sierra Club's New Hampshire Chapter that described the activities of Schiller as being the cause of our polluted air -- namely high emissions of sulfur dioxide."