Big Victory for Club as Illinois Governor Vetoes Two Coal-to-Gas Plants
The Sierra Club won a major victory on March 14 when Illinois Governor Pat Quinn vetoed two bills that would have subsidized the construction of new coal gasification plants on the Southeast side of Chicago and downstate in Jefferson County.
Just five days before the governor's vetos, Club activists joined Southeast Chicago residents for a rally at the Thompson Center in The Loop, where the governor's Chicago office is located. That's Illinois Chapter volunteer leader Verena Owen below, at the rally, which drew over 150 people. (Click on the photo to see a chapter video of the rally.)
For months, the Club and its allies in the environmental, health, and consumer protection realms have been spreading the word throughout the state that more investment in dirty, outdated fossil fuel technology is not the way to go. The vetoed bills would have required gas utilities to purchase synthetic natural gas from the Chicago plant for 30 years, and the southern Illinois plant for 10 years, at a higher price than current natural gas prices.
Residents of Southeast Chicago were outraged that another source of pollution was planned for their neighborhood, already one of the most polluted in the U.S. "They're an amazing group of folks who've been willing to go to bat for their health and their community," says Becki Clayborn of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.
Clayborn and Illinois Chapter Director Jack Darin led the charge against the bills statewide. "The Sierra Club was a major force in stopping these bad bills," says Clayborn, who worked closely with the Southeast Environmental Task Force and other community groups in Southeast Chicago. That's Clayborn, below with microphone, at the March 9 rally.
Clayborn also gave presentations at two town hall meetings that each brought out over 200 citizens. "That's an unheard-of number of people turning out for any coal plant hearing I've ever organized around," she says. "The community really stepped it up a notch with their packed town hall meetings over the last month-and-a-half and then with the big rally the week before the veto." Below, one of the town hall meetings.
Jack Darin played a key role in influencing Governor Quinn, and the Sierra Club supplied and delivered more than 1,500 signed petition postcards to the governor, urging him to veto the two coal gasification plants.
"We applaud Governor Quinn's veto of ratepayer bailouts for two risky, dirty coal plants," Darin says. "The governor has long been a champion for clean energy and for consumers, and the special interest legislation for [these two plants] were bad for both. Trying to turn coal into natural gas will raise heating bills and cause more air pollution—it just doesn't make sense. Illinois ratepayers can thank Governor Quinn for saving them from a big rate hike to bail out these plants."
"The Club's leadership and guidance kept this campaign going," says Clayborn, "but the local community really took this campaign and ran with it. In less than two months they got more than 500 people out to meetings, rallies, phone-banks, and sign-making sessions. These folks from Southeast Chicago are absolutely inspiring to me. Communities like this will be instrumental in moving us beyond coal to a clean energy future."
In addition to Darin's efforts, Clayborn gives a special shout-out to Verena Owen, Illinois Chapter staff Jen Hensley, Sara Gulezian, and Ted Mason, Club Associate Press Secretary Claire Orphan, regional coal director James Gignac, and Beyond Coal team members Nachy Kanfer and Mike Starr.