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Scrapbook: Precedent-Setting Coal Victory for Club in Wisconsin

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December 10, 2007

Precedent-Setting Coal Victory for Club in Wisconsin

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The Sierra Club and the State of Wisconsin agreed to a landmark settlement on November 26 to clean up the University of Wisconsin's 52-year-old Charter Street coal-fired power plant in Madison, as well as twelve other coal-burning facilities in the state. The cartoon above, by Phil Hands, ran in the Wisconsin State Journal after the settlement was announced.

"This is a great day for the breathing public in Wisconsin," says volunteer leader Seth Nowak of the Club's Four Lakes Group. Less than a month earlier, a federal judge ruled in a Sierra Club-initiated lawsuit that the state had violated the federal Clean Air Act by expanding the Charter Street plant, below, without installing modern pollution controls.

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As a founding member of the Madison Area Clean Energy Coalition, the Four Lakes Group has been promoting clean energy alternatives in the capital and demanding that the Charter Street plant be either cleaned up or shut down. Club Midwest organizer Jennifer Feyerherm says a combination of impressive legal work by David Bender and his colleagues at Garvey, McNeil & McGillivray and the stellar efforts of Sierra Club volunteers and other concerned citizens brought about "a victory that will be felt here in Madison and across the state."

Under the terms of the settlement, the university will cut coal use at the Charter Street plant by 15 percent beginning January 1, 2008; the university and the state will jointly complete a Comprehensive Feasibility Study by July 2008 that lays out options for cleaner fuels and cogeneration; and the state will conduct a public review of the compliance status of the twelve other state-owned coal-fired heating plants in Wisconsin and remedy any identified violations by December 2009.

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The agreement caps years of work by the John Muir Chapter and Four Lakes Group, who did postcard drives, organized rallies at the university and marches to the plant, spoke out at public hearings, wrote letters to the editor, and met with local editorial boards. Above, Club activists and other citizens at an air permit hearing last year. "The Club was the catalyst for more than 1,000 Madison residents raising their voices," says Feyerherm, citing the leadership of volunteers Nowak, Kate Blumenthal, Annie Staten, and Gary Werner.

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Feyerherm emphasizes too the pivotal contribution of the Sierra Student Coalition, particularly student activists Ashley Brenke, Claus Moberg, Rebecca Wolfson, Emma Ingebretsen, and Susie Levy. That's Levy pictured at right, above, with Feyerherm, delivering Christmas stockings last year to the office of University of Wisconsin Chancellor John Wiley, with a message, below, urging that there be no coal-fired power plants in Madison without modern pollution controls.

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"It was frustrating that we needed to rely on every legal tool given to us by the Clean Air Act," says Feyerherm, "but this case is a perfect example of why we need these tools. The implications of the case and resulting settlement set several precedents that go far beyond Madison's air."

Read more about what the Sierra Club is doing to fight the coal rush and promote clean energy.

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