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February 18, 2011

Citizens Lobby for a Coal-Free Washington

Chris-Gamble-at-Lobby-Day

Hundreds of citizens descended on the Washington State capitol in Olympia on February 15 to support clean energy and a coal-free future for the state. That's University of Washington graduate student Chris Gamble, above, speaking about the need to transition away from coal.

The occasion was the Environmental Priorities Coalition's annual Lobby Day, where people from around the state come to the capitol to lobby on the legislative priorities of the environmental community. Atop the agenda this year is ending Washington's reliance on the TransAlta Coal Plant.

"We had a fantastic lobby day and hearing," says Robin Everett, below, of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. "Over 500 people turned out to let legislators know that coal is harmful to our health and environment and it is time to transition from the TransAlta coal plant to clean energy."

Robin-Everett

Environmentalists, doctors, students, and faith leaders spoke in support of shutting down TransAlta as soon as possible. "We filled up the hearing room, the overflow room, and the Senate Chambers," Everett says.

TransAlta, the state's only coal-fired power plant, emits more than 360 pounds of mercury into the air every year. A gram-sized drop of mercury can contaminate a 20-acre lake.

The state House of Representatives also held a public hearing on HB1825, which would shut down TransAlta by 2020 with incremental reductions in the interim, and create a $94 million community-development fund for the community of Centralia and Lewis County, where the plant is located. The Sierra Club favors a plan to transition off the plant by 2015 or sooner.

Below, student activists testify at the hearing.

Youth-activists-at-hearing

"We held a press conference before the hearing that was attended by over 100 volunteers and many press outlets," Everett says. "We had fabulous testimony, which really highlighted the health and environmental effects of burning coal, and we also argued for the merits of the bill, including a strong plan to take care of the community in Lewis County."

"More than any other action the state could take, replacing TransAlta with clean energy would slash Washington’s carbon footprint and protect public health," says Sierra Club campus organizer Nick Engelfried. "Groups like the Sierra Club are engaged in an all-out effort to secure a coal-free future this year ... and set up a fund to prepare the community of Centralia for new sources of industry.

[Editor's note: Three days after this rally and hearing took place, the Washington Senate's Environment, Water and Energy Committee voted to close TransAlta by 2020.]

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