Back in June, the Sierra Club and its allies in the Coal Free Massachusetts coalition won a long-sought victory when the owners of the 54-year-old Mt. Tom coal plant in Holyoke -- one of the biggest polluters in the state -- announced that the plant would cease coal operations this October.
Unfortunately, the June announcement by GDF Suez, which owns Mt. Tom, was not a binding commitment. "Our worry was that they were just 'mothballing' the facility while they rode out the current economically unfavorable conditions, in hopes of resuming operations at some point down the road," says James McCaffrey, senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. That's McCaffrey at right, below, with Beyond Coal volunteer Rick Purcell.
Those worries were fueled by GDF Suez's attempt last spring to terminate a "compliance demonstration process" designedto ensure that the impact of the plant's emissions of harmful sulfur dioxide did not exceed federal air-quality standards.
But for the past two years, the Sierra Club had consistently been pushing the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to finalize enforceable sulfur dioxide limits, threatening legal action over the plant's expired air permit, which galvanized DEP's initiation of the compliance demonstration process.
"After GDF Suez announced this June that it was terminating the process, we turned up the heat," McCaffrey says. "Over the summer, the Club and its allies submitted over 1,000 petitions to Governor Deval Patrick and the DEP commissioner, and circulated a letter taking the agency to task for failing to protect public health."
And in early October DEP responded, mandating that the plant comply with the sulfur dioxide emissions standards before it would ever be allowed to resume operation.