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September 12, 2014

Beyond Coal Activists Turn Up the Heat for Clean Air in Maryland


Last year, Maryland positioned itself as an East Coast leader in offshore wind development with the passage of the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013. The Sierra Club's Maryland Chapter worked for more than three years to get the bill passed.

Unfortunately, the state suffers from the worst smog pollution on the East Coast, in part because of its seven coal-fired power plants. But the Sierra Club's Maryland Beyond Coal campaign is working to change that by pushing for the retirement of the four dirtiest plants: Crane, Wagner, Dickerson, and Chalk Point. That's the Wagner plant above, with downtown Baltimore in the background.

In early September, Sierra Clubbers, other concerned citizens, and representatives of partner organizations testified at a meeting of the Maryland Air Quality Control Advisory Council (AQCAC), where the state Department of the Environment (MDE) submitted its new proposed limits on smog-forming emissions for Maryland's coal-fired power plants for review by the council. The AQCAC is a citizen's advisory board that can effectively approve or deny air-related regulations proposed by MDE.


That's Maryland Sierra Club director Josh Tulkin, above, testifying at the hearing. Below, Chris Yoder, chair of the Club's Greater Baltimore Group.


"The first hour of the early-morning meeting was standard procedure, and the council breezed through their usual business in a half-empty room," says Baltimore-based Beyond Coal organizer Seth Bush. "Then, as the chair introduced the section on the new smog emissions rules, 20 Maryland Beyond Coal activists streamed in wearing 'I Love Clean Air' stickers and took up all of the remaining seats." (Bush had arranged for a professional photographer to capture images of the Beyond Coal activists making their entrance, but unfortunately the shots didn't come out.)

Seth-Bush"The council isn't accustomed to seeing such a show of support on a particular issue at their meetings, and they were clearly impressed when we packed the room," says Bush, at left. "Our supporters outnumbered the coal industry supporters almost 10 to 1. And as we learned after the meeting, the council was even more impressed by the sincere, compelling testimony given by attendees who called for the new emissions rules to be passed without further delay."

Baltimoreans with asthma, public health professionals, parents, faith community leaders, and other concerned citizens all testified on the need for MDE to take swift action cleaning up Maryland's dirty coal plants.

"The stories were inspiring, and the council was visibly moved," Bush says. A representative from the governor's office complimented us after the meeting on our impressive turnout and incredibly articulate, well-informed testimony."

Among those who testified was Baltimore resident Doris Toles, below at right, who suffers from serious respiratory issues exacerbated by the city's poor air quality.


"I had my first asthma attack when I was two," she told the council, "and I'm now living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). A person gets COPD like I have after years of asthma attacks permanently weaken the lungs, and there is no cure. Doctors told me my asthma is triggered by air pollution where I live, so I have to be very careful and keep my inhaler close at hand on days when smog levels are high."

Although the council delayed a final decision until their next meeting in October, they provisionally approved MDE's plan to continue the regulatory process with the new emissions rules. "We aren't done yet, but we're well-positioned to win a yes vote in October," Bush says.

Bush gives a special shout-out to new Maryland Beyond Coal representative David Smednick for his "spot-on testimony and helping pull together our partners," and Sierra Club staff attorney Josh Berman, an expert on legal and legislative issues involving coal emissions, who also testified at the meeting.

Marylanders: Take action to help make sure the MDE holds polluters accountable.

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