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October 10, 2014

Hands Across the Sand in Waukegan

Waukegan

More than 120 residents and community leaders who live near coal-fired power plants in Waukegan, Romeoville, and Pekin, Illinois, gathered at Waukegan's Municipal Beach on Lake Michigan in view of NRG Energy's 60-year-old Waukegan Generating Station for an event called Hands Across the Sand: Solidarity for Clean Water and Clean Power.

The event, organized by the Sierra Club's Clean Power Lake County campaign, began with a beach cleanup of several acres and ended with a program that included speakers from all three communities, each of which is home to an NRG coal plant.

Waukegan

"This was the largest beach sweep in Waukegan history," says Christine Nannicelli, an organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Illinois campaign. "We had a fantastic turnout from the Latino community, and we concluded the program holding hands along the lakefront in the shadow of the Waukegan coal plant."

Waukegan-photo-petitionCommunity members took photo petitions such as the one at left, demanding that New Jersey-based NRG transition from coal to clean energy. (David Crane is the president and CEO of NRG.)

"We've gathered almost 500 photo petitions, and they've been a very effective campaign tool," Nannicelli says. "People are ready to begin a new chapter and really turn up the pressure on NRG."

The Waukegan Generating Station is the largest source of water pollution in Lake County, which also has the highest ozone smog levels in Illinois. Asthma rates among children in Waukegan are more than three times the national average. However, NRG announced in August that it would continue to burn coal at the Waukegan plant.

All of NRG's coal plants in Illinois damage local waterways with mercury emissions and toxic coal ash waste. The Waukegan plant's coal ash ponds sit right next to the Lake Michigan shoreline.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued violation notices to the Waukegan, Romeoville, and Pekin power plants in 2012 for high levels of contaminants in groundwater near their coal ash ponds.

Sierra Club volunteer David Villalobos, a leader in the Clean Power Lake County campaign, emceed the Hands Across the Sands event. Other speakers included Dulce Ortiz from Coalitión Latinos Unidos de Lake County; Ellen Rendulich from Citizens Against Ruining the Environment (CARE); Tracy Fox from Peoria Families Against Toxic Waste; Faith Bugel from the Environmental Law & Policy Center; and Antonio Lopez of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

Below, Lopez presents Ortiz with a bandana from the People's Climate Justice Summit, held in New York City following the People's Climate March and concurrent with the UN Climate Summit, in recognition of their shared goals of environmental and economic justice.

Lopez-&-Ortiz

"We also had prayers from our two church partners in the campaign," Nannicelli says. "This was the first time residents of Waukegan, Romeoville, and Pekin have gathered in solidarity to share their vision of a clean-energy future and call on NRG to commit to retirement dates for their coal fleet in Illinois. Folks are fired up."

All photos except photo petition by Karen Long MacLeod, courtesy of Clean Power Lake County.


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