Locals Help Turn Back Waste Coal Plant Near Pittsburgh
The Sierra Club, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the local groups Action for Change Today and Residents Against the Power Plant celebrated in late January when the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) invalidated an air quality permit allowing a "waste coal" power plant to be built less than 10 miles upwind of downtown Pittsburgh.
Above, local residents gather last June at a community meeting opposing the 272-megawatt Beech Hollow Power Plant in Robinson Township.
The plant was originally approved by DEP in 2005, just days before more stringent federal guidelines for the burning of waste coal were to take effect. But thanks in large part to a concerted grassroots campaign, the permit was rescinded and Robinson Power Company dropped its plans to build the plant.
"A lot of people worked very hard to make sure citizens' voices were heard," says Sierra Club organizer Randy Francisco. "They held meetings, went door-to-door, sent letters and emails—it was very impressive. They've been working toward this moment for years."
Below, Francisco talks with reporters and staff of state and federal legislators on a Dirty Coal tour the Sierra Club organized near the site of the proposed Beech Hollow plant last November.
Robinson Power planned to burn 38 million tons of waste coal contained in the "gob pile" pictured below, next to the proposed plant site. Gob piles are huge hills of refuse left over as a byproduct of coal mining, a major constituent of which is coal. Waste coal from gob piles has a high mercury content and burns dirtier and less efficiently than "normal" coal. It is estimated the Beech Hollow plant would have emitted more than 1.7 million tons of global warming pollution annually, along with harmful levels of soot and smog pollution.
The plant's construction permit was set to expire in April 2010. When building stalled more than 18 months ago, area residents who had been opposing the project for years redoubled their efforts to fight any permit extension.
"Sierra Club members from the Allegheny Group were very active in this campaign," says Francisco. "In fact, it was a tip from a local Club activist that led to ACT getting involved." (That individual cannot be identified here due to the terms of a legal settlement with Robinson Power Company.)
"In some ways the Club's biggest contribution was simply to support the community," Francisco says. "We provided them with online organizing tools and helped give them a bigger megaphone. When they had an event, we'd put out an alert to turn people out. When they planned to go door-to-door or hold a meeting at a local church, we gave them a list of Sierra Club members in the area." One tactic Francisco especially liked was advertising a town hall meeting by putting a flyer on pizza delivery boxes from a popular local pizzeria.
Two other proposed waste coal plants in western Pennsylvania that closely resemble the Beech Hollow project have yet to be built, even though they obtained their permits years ago. "In light of the denial of Robinson Power's permit for the Beech Hollow plant," says Francisco, "I hope DEP sees fit to use the same criteria to put an end to these other waste coal plants as well."
Francisco credits longtime Allegheny Group leader Dr. Phil Coleman, ACT Co-Chair Jennifer Iriti, Lisa Graves-Marcucci with the Environmental Integrity Project, and Cathy Donne of Residents Against the Power Plant (RAPP) with "doing a lot of the heavy lifting" on the Beech Hollow campaign.