Beyond Coal Milestone - Coal Plant #200 Announced to Retire

Today we reached another big milestone in our push to move beyond coal - the 200th coal plant to announce retirement in the United States since 2010. This is the latest major crossroads in what Politico recently called "the most extensive, expensive and effective campaign in the [Sierra] Club's 123-year history, and maybe the history of the environmental movement." At the heart of this momentum is the unyielding drive and commitment of thousands of grassroots leaders and activists, some of whom are featured in a new video we're releasing today to mark the occasion.

I'd like to introduce you to one of those volunteers who helped us reach #200. Patricia Fuller is a retired nurse in Council Bluffs, Iowa, who is celebrating with us this week as we reach this milestone in the march toward a safer and more equitable environment. Here's why:

"You haven’t seen fear until you’ve seen a patient fighting to breathe, and their loved ones powerless to help. After the coal plant in my own community retired, I became very active in the fight for cleaner air across the state line in North Omaha, Nebraska," said Patricia, who is also a lead volunteer with the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign. "We urged Nebraska to 'get in the game' like Iowa on clean energy, and now Omaha is on the path to tripling its share of clean, renewable energy. I'm proud that Iowa's clean energy success inspires other communities to take action."

Today, thanks to the hard work of Patricia and thousands more like her, we've won retirement announcements for 200 of the 535 coal-fired power plants in the United States, nearly 40 percent of America's coal plants. This 200th retirement is happening right in the heart of America, in the great state of Iowa. Alliant Energy, a major Iowa utility, will be retiring or retrofitting eight coal plants, which were emitting more pollution than was allowed by the company's air permits, contributing to an estimated 32 deaths and 541 asthma attacks annually, and costing local residents $15.3 million in healthcare bills each year according to plant-level 2010 estimates by Clean Air Task Force (CATF).

Iowa won't have any trouble replacing that coal power with renewables - the state has long been a leader in the transition to clean energy. Nearly 7,000 Iowans are employed in the wind industry, and the state is poised to blow past meeting 40 percent of its electricity needs with wind power. The state is leading the way to a 100 percent clean energy future and -- as Patricia had hoped -- is inspiring others to get in the game. This announcement is just the latest example of how the Beyond Coal campaign and more than 100 allied organizations across the country are building clean energy solutions, state by state and community by community.

Patricia is excited to see clean energy continue to expand in Iowa and Nebraska because it means cleaner air and water, and healthier communities. Back in 2009, the pollution from the 200 coal plants now slated for retirement caused 6,000 heart attacks, 60,000 asthma attacks and 3,600 premature deaths each year. Patricia, who has worked extensively with the Iowa Nurses Association and the Beyond Coal Campaign on holding polluters in her state accountable, has been working to reduce those numbers for years.

"Several years ago I testified before a legislative committee in Lincoln, Nebraska, on a bill dealing with the true cost of energy -- the many negative health issues from burning coal," she said. From there she met more nurses involved in the campaign and they joined together to continue speaking out.

Patricia hopes this latest victory continues to inspire more activists to take action in their own communities. "Once we become aware of climate change and realize that it is the greatest moral issue of our time, I think we are obligated to try to do something about it."

I'm so inspired by Patricia and the thousands of other activists nationwide who've spent years working to replace coal plants with clean energy, motivated by our shared believe that everyone deserves clean air and water, and a dignified living environment. Together, we reached this #200 milestone just a year-and-a-half after we hit 150 coal plants retired - which happened only a year-and-a-half after we reached 100 coal plants retired. And as we make this transition to clean energy, it is essential to protect the livelihoods of workers and communities traditionally reliant on coal, including here in my home state of West Virginia. The Sierra Club is working to advance these efforts through our Beyond Coal campaign, our Labor Program, and our federal policy advocacy.

Every week, the transition from coal to clean energy is moving from the improbable to the inevitable. Over the past five years the Beyond Coal campaign has phased out a coal-fired power plant every 10 days.

This big shift in how America makes energy is being driven at the local level, but it’s moving needle on carbon reduction at a global level, too. Community solutions built by leaders like Patricia have enabled the United States to lead the industrialized world in cutting global warming pollution, and they’ve even put the White House in a position to lead during international climate negotiations in Paris later this year. Today, we celebrate Patricia and the thousands of fellow supporters out there who made all this possible. Thank you.