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April 29, 2013

Holding Big Coal Accountable in Illinois


The Edwards coal plant in Peoria, Illinois, will have a lot to explain thanks to a lawsuit that highlights more than 1,000 Clean Air Act violations. At a press conference last week, nearly 20 volunteer leaders and clean-air advocates gathered to spell out the violations, which have happened over the past five years. One of the speakers was a relatively new supporter, Robin Garlish (pictured), whose three children have respiratory problems.

"We're wondering if it will even be safe for our family to go outdoors and enjoy bicycle riding," Garlish said. "We have a ski boat, we have a lot of friends and do our water sports. I'm afraid to take us out to do these things at this point."

The Beyond Coal Campaign was joined by the group Peoria Families Against Toxic Waste and the League of Women Voters in demanding pollution controls that will prevent the coal plant from sickening more people. Sierra Club Organizer Kady McFadden said if controls aren't put in place, the plant should retire.

"If it can't be done, then the plant should be shut down," she said, as reported by Peoria Public Radio. "Either of these is an acceptable option, but what's not acceptable is to continue to push the costs of operating dirty plants onto the community in the form of sickness. Or to transfer the plant to someone else that they can do the same thing."

The same day, the local NAACP chapter had voted unanimously to join the coalition.

"This is a big milestone for central Illinois, and for our movement. We are looking forward to this partnership, and to begin talking about the concept of environmental justice for the first time ever in Peoria," McFadden said.

Activists later in the day organized the area’s first town hall focused on the coal plant. A presentation on the health effects of the plant was followed a 30-minute question-and-answer session.

"We heard stories of sickness exacerbated by the plant," said McFadden, "as well as coal dust and ash build-up on windows, homes and cars." She said the Beyond Coal campaign hopes to host more town halls in the near future. On Wednesday, the American Lung Association released its annual "State of the Air"report. The report found that in Peoria County, more than 11,000 adults and 3,000 children cope with asthma and nearly 50,000 people have cardiovascular disease. 

-- Brian Foley


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