Clean Power Plan Passes in Chattanooga, Tennessee

On June 30, Chattanooga, Tennessee, joined a national clean energy movement when the City Council passed a resolution supporting the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, devoted to reducing carbon emissions on a state-by-state basis. A press event and celebration followed the City Council meeting, attended by business and community leaders, doctors, parents and children, and other Chattanooga public health advocates. The event was jointly hosted by 26 organizations including the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, Climate Chattanooga, and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

A considerable amount of work went into making the press event a success and getting the Clean Power Plan to pass. We recently caught up with Beyond Coal organizer Chris Ann Lunghino to discuss her strategy for planning the event and getting local officials to embrace their cause.

One tool utilized was social media. “Facebook and Twitter allowed me to easily get the attention of targets, supporters, and allies, let them know our position on issues, and in the case of targets, hold them publicly accountable,” Chris Ann said. She developed a number of recruitment emails, targeted phone calls and texts, and Tweeted live throughout the event. “The most powerful part of social media is that it’s not only a place to have a conversation, but a place to amplify that conversation. It allows us to initiate new relationships and strengthen existing ones.”

But in addition to social media, much of the work to get the Council to support the Clean Power Plan happened the old-fashioned way -- inside the offices of Council members and meetings with the mayor’s chief of staff and sustainability director. “Between each meeting with elected officials and staff, coalition partners and volunteers met in person or via conference call to debrief, evaluate, refine our action plan, and take ownership of next steps,” Chris Ann explains. She also organized weekly volunteer meetings to take action on the Plan.

Among the many Sierra Club volunteers who helped promote the resolution and get it on the Council’s agenda was Sandy Kurtz, conservation chair of the Club’s Cherokee Group in eastern Tennessee. “I helped fashion the content of the resolution,” Sandy says, “emphasizing not only that the Council should support the Clean Power Plan, but the need for energy justice in the city.” Her presentation on the health benefits of the Clean Power Plan paved the way for the success of the resolution.

A packed house at Chattanooga City Council meeting

Kurtz is far from the only local Sierra Club volunteer who deserves credit. Cherokee Chapter volunteers have been the chief drivers of the Climate Chattanooga Healthy Energy for Everyone coalition (CCHEE). Last fall, volunteers hosted a Climate Festival with food, beer, and music that drew more than 400 people. Local officials such as the Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, City Council members, members of the business community, and environmental justice advocates spoke about why clean energy is so vital. Sandy believes the event “set the stage to move us toward approval of the resolution.”

Chris Ann is excited about what comes next now that the resolution has passed. “On August 8, Chattanooga will be hosting a ‘Chattanooga Forward’ day of action to celebrate the community’s commitment to sustainability, and the release of the final draft of the Clean Power Plan. Mayor Berke has the event on his calendar, and we've invited all city council members to attend.”

In addition to supporting the Clean Power Plan, the city’s Office of Sustainability will fund a 2-person staff and develop an internship program to engage students at the local university who are focused on sustainable initiatives to promote clean energy and fight climate disruption.