When a new coal-fired power plant was proposed in Seward, Alaska, the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, local Sierra Club activists exposed the developer's own "model," a Montana plant that had been shut down due to permit violations, to discredit the proposal and convince the city council to turn it down.
Seward resident and Alaska Chapter volunteer Russ Maddox had just arrived in the state capital of Juneau after a trip to Washington, D.C., for Alaska Wilderness Week, a twice-annual gathering for activists to get lobbying and leadership training and meet with federal decision-makers. He was putting his training to work lobbying the state legislature as part of an Alaska Conservation Voters "legislative fly-in" when he received an e-mail at his Juneau hostel informing him of a proposed coal-fired power plant in Seward.
"That very day I'd heard presentations on global warming and Alaska's renewable energy potential, highlighting the adverse consequences of coal," he says. "Sitting a few blocks from the capital, I was in a great position to seek a renewable energy solution instead of this huge mistake we seemed headed towards."
In Juneau, he met with his state representatives and energy regulators to discuss the power plant proposal, and then back in Seward, he and fellow members of the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance formed a coalition to fight the plant.
"Just opposing it wasn't enough," says Maddox, standing second from right, above, with other coalition members. "We had to do our homework and offer viable alternatives like hydro, tidal, and wind power." They gathered more than 600 signatures on a petition (in a town of 3,000) and generated more than 100 formal public comments in favor of alternatives to coal.
But the coalition went further, researching the developer's "model" coal plant in Montana and finding it shut down, with a long history of broken promises to the community and the EPA. They also contacted Montana environmental groups, which Maddox says were "remarkably helpful." The environmental groups there even wrote to Alaskan leaders urging them not to make the same mistake Montana did.
In September, the council voted down the project.
Maddox credits Chapter Chair Dr. Paul Forman and staff organizers Maryellen Oman, Katherine Fuselier, and Betsy Goll for playing key roles in the campaign. He adds, "Never hesitate to call another organization for advice."
Doing Homework in Montana: Russ Maddox, standing second from right in photo above, and fellow coalition members helped stop the proposed Seward power plant by researching the developer's "model" plant in Montana, which had been shut down due to permit violations. [photo by Jason Wettstein]