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March 25, 2011

Club Galvanizes Opposition to New Kentucky Coal Terminal


The Sierra Club was front & center on the NBC and ABC evening news broadcasts in western Kentucky this month after area residents packed a hearing at the McCracken County courthouse to weigh in on a proposed coal terminal near the Ohio River in West Paducah.

"Homeowners aren't happy," reported WPSD Channel 6 News on March 16, "and the Sierra Club joined the opposition tonight at the McCracken County zoning board meeting to fight the plan."


The segment featured Dianna Riddick, above left, chair of the Club's Great Rivers Group, walking in a local nature preserve and explaining why the coal terminal was a bad idea. "We believe there's a risk with such close proximity to the Ohio River and the nature preserve," she said. "We need to think about responsible stewardship of our lands. Let's be smart about what we're doing and not make mistakes we've made in the past."

Riddick was prominently featured in several media accounts of the zoning commission meeting. "Just say no to coal," Riddick told ABC affiliate WISL TV. "We don't want it, we don't need it. Let's invest in smart jobs and renewable energy."

A possible coal-to-liquid-gas plant is also being discussed, and so many citizens turned out to speak that the meeting lasted three hours. "We turned out 200 people, and everyone was given signs that said NO in big letters," says Sierra Club organizer Tom Pearce, below left. Below right, WPSB reporter Jason Hibbs holds up one of the Club's NO signs on the air.


Representatives from Southern Coal Handling, which wants to build the terminal, showed a video extolling the virtues of a similar coal plant in another city. But opponents countered with their own video, featuring interviews with neighbors of that plant who said the noise and dust were horrible.

"We're organizing with area residents, who are circulating petitions," says Pearce, who has helped create a new Beyond Coal team in the Great Rivers Group. "Before the meeting we did door-to-door outreach around the proposed terminal site, met neighborhood leaders who oppose the plan, and turned out several families to the hearing who hadn't been previously contacted."  Below, a sign in West Paducah urges locals to sign the Club's petition.


The Sierra Club has also struck up an alliance with Harrah's Casino, across the river in Illinois. Harrah's has been sharply critical of the proposed coal terminal and coal-to-gas plant, and is funding a full-page ad in the Paducah Sun newspaper to "reveal the truth about coal."

Harrah's is the only U.S. gaming company to win an EPA Environmental Quality Award, and one of the first gaming companies to join the EPA Climate Leaders Program. The company just this week announced its EPA-approved greenhouse gas reduction goals—another first in the gaming industry.

On March 23, the McCracken County zoning board approved the coal terminal on a 3-2 vote, eliciting boos and catcalls from another capacity crowd at the courthouse. But Pearce believes the fight is far from over.

"Now this goes to the Fiscal Court," he says, "which is made up of elected officials—and elections are coming in May! This plan has been beaten twice before in the Fiscal Court after the zoning board approved it unanimously."

Riddick says the Sierra Club is coordinating a petition drive and hope to have at least 2,000 names to present to the Fiscal Court opposing the rezoning. "Several community organizers are throwing their hats in with us and vice versa," she says. "We will continue the fight to preserve the lives of those residents of the  West McCRacken County area from the known perils of a coal handling terminal."


Southern Coal Handling is dangling the lure of new jobs and claims the project will bring in the nation's first coal-to-liquid plant. "We are skeptical that they will be able to finish the technology and gain the funding necessary to build the multi-billion dollar plant," Riddick says, "but that will certainly be a long-term fight if it goes in.

"Heavy industrial zoning will allow that plant to be located in what is a beautiful rural residential neighborhood," she says. "We're fighting hard to keep the zoning down to prevent the col terminal and the coal-to-gas plant. This is the third time Southern Coal Handling has come back with this proposal, and we're hoping the third time is not the charm."

Learn more about coal and the Sierra Club's work to promote clean energy.


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