The Sierra Club's Florida Chapter and Calusa Group (southwest Florida) celebrated on June 5 when the Florida Public Service Commission voted unanimously to deny a request by Florida Power and Light to build a huge coal-fired power plant in Glades County, between Lake Okeechobee and Everglades National Park.
Chapter and group volunteers, field staff, and attorneys with the Club's Environmental Law Program have been fighting the proposed 1,960-megawatt Glades Power Plant on a number of levels for months. The Sierra Club was one of several environmental groups that intervened in an administrative challenge opposing the plant, which would discharge more than 13 million pounds of carbon dioxide and 180 pounds of mercury a year.
Rhonda Roff (above), a Sierra Club member who lives near Lake Okeechobee, is president of Save It Now, Glades! (SING), a coalition of environmental activists and groups working to protect the Glades region and stop the Glades Power Plant. In February, Roff and other SING members decided to set up a table at the Ortona Cane Grinding Festival in Glades County.
"It was our first stab at festival tables," she says. "The park where the event was held is named after one of the county's good old boys, and at first we thought they wouldn't let us in—they were worried that we'd be heckled."
Ultimately they were let in, and set up two tables away from Florida Power and Light, with only a jewelry booth in between. And as the day unfolded, Roff says, the most amazing thing happened: "Folks came over to us complaining about the 'unsatisfying discussions' at the FPL booth, and wanting to know if we had 'a petition or something' they could sign. It was so gratifying. We did many more tabling events after that and really had fun."
Another local grassroots leader was Calusa Group Chair Ellen Peterson (below), who intervened in the administrative challenge to the plant as an individual and helped spearhead the Club's public outreach efforts.
Just days before the Public Service Commission vote, Peterson, who received her degree in chemistry from the University of Georgia in 1945, told the Southwest Florida News Press that government and businesses in Florida should invest in renewable energy sources like solar. "We just don't need a coal plant," she said. "They're so scary. Glades County really needs to go toward tourism."
Chapter Energy Chair Joy Ezell, Legal Chair Dan Hendrickson, and staff lobbyist Susie Caplowe were key players at the statewide level in convincing the public and lawmakers that the plant wasn't needed, that it would add to global warming precisely when drastic measures are needed to curb it, and that Florida Power and Light had done nothing to reduce electricity demand over the last decade, as many utilities elsewhere in the country have done. Mercury and nitrous oxide pollution to the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, and local rivers were also major concerns.
Roff says environmental activists in the region are for the most part all members of each others' groups, and that dozens of groups pulled together in this effort.
Learn more about the Sierra Club's efforts to promote clean energy and stop the coal rush.
Photos used with permission.