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Ever since President Obama invited the American public to a national climate conversation, thousands of Americans have taken him up on that offer by participating in town hall meetings held by the Sierra Club and our allies.

I'd like to highlight one of these events I found particularly powerful and worthy of more attention.

North Omaha, Nebraska, is home to one of the dirtiest coal plants in the nation, the North Omaha coal plant operated by Omaha Public Power District. The NAACP ranked it the 16th worst environmental justice offender in the nation (although with recent coal plant closures and retirements, it's now in the top ten).

This coal plant is poisoning the air in the neighborhood. According to Graham Jordison, a Beyond Coal organizer in North Omaha, "North Omaha is largely an African American population with an average household income of $17,000. The asthma rate in this community is 20%."

To that end, the Sierra Club has been working with allies such as Black Men United and The Malcolm X Foundation to move beyond coal and secure more clean energy for Omaha and the entire state. The fight for clean air in Omaha has even started new partnerships in the city: the NAACP's Omaha branch spoke out at a recent Omaha Public Power District board meeting, voicing concerns about the North Omaha coal plant and air pollution.

Another reason moving beyond coal in Nebraska is so exciting? The state’s enormous clean energy potential.

"Nebraska is the state with the nation's fourth greatest potential for wind energy and is ranked ninth for solar power potential," said Graham.

Graham said the local partners have organized many community meetings to educate and organize residents. They've held energy efficiency forums and more - but in the past few weeks came two events that show the power of North Omaha's families.

"First, a record number of people showed up to Omaha Public Power Districts board meeting to deliver comments on retiring the North Omaha coal plant," said  Graham. "They got an immediate response from the board and a promise from the CEO, Gary Gates, to meet in the following weeks.

"Then on March 23 we had an environmental justice forum at the Malcolm X Foundation (birth site of Malcolm X) that turned out a record number of people and spurred some deep discussion on the coal plant and environmental racism."

North Omaha's residents - and Americans nationwide - know that coal poisons our air and water. They're tired of the asthma attacks, the ER visits, the code red air quality days where kids can't play outside.

I'm inspired by the people of North Omaha and the amazing community partnerships forming locally. There are faith groups, the NAACP, the Sierra Club, and so many others who are committed clean air and local clean energy development. They know the future is brighter without coal, that clean energy and energy efficiency create jobs and won't cause asthma attacks.

Graham says it best: "We are building a powerful movement here in Omaha! We are rich with passion and we are winning!"

Find more great clean energy events and climate town halls on our website.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    Let's Move Beyond Coal -

    by Mary Anne Hitt on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 11:25:39 AM PDT

  •  What is the basis of your claims of health damage? (0+ / 0-)

    Your diary does not say anything about the factual basis of the claims that the power plant in question is actually causing damage to public health.

    The North Omaha area is considered in compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone:

    North Omaha complies with the NAAQS health standards for PM 2.5 and PM-10.

    North Omaha is presently considered in attainment with the lead NAAQS, although I seem to remember some problems with a lead source which wasn't a power plant years ago in the Omaha area.

    In an area where all national ambient air quality standards related to primary health protection area being met, what is the basis or demonstration of your claims of health damage being attributed to the specific coal-fired power plant in question?

    Finally, if there is a health basis for claims about this power plant, shat priority conservation plant recommendations is the Sierra Club advocating and/or litigating that actually addresses getting emission reductions that will benefit the North Omaha community in question and what priority level is Sierra Club applying to prosecuting that act of needed air pollution control?

    •  sorry....what priority conservation plan (0+ / 0-)


    •  It is a dirty plant. (0+ / 0-)

      Thanks for your comment. I can send you a spreadsheet of our info showing the % of hours the plant emits more SO2 than our modeling shows is safe. I can also send you a pollution plume map for this particular plant. Let me know!

      North Omaha is the only large urbanely located plant that is neither slated to stop burning coal, or has a plan to install state-of-the art pollution controls to protect public health.  

      Just because an area is in attainment doesn't mean there are no causes for concern.  The plant had a number of "unsafe" air days last year.

      There is a lead superfund site just a few blocks south of the plant.  This community has endured one toxic legacy after another and the mercury issue should be highlighted in your response.

      Finally, OPPD, instead of committing to deal with its mercury problem, has asked EPA for more time to think about retrofit or retire.  It's application for a 1-year extension under MATS is wholly unsupported by the required "plan" for compliance that the rules require.

      Let's Move Beyond Coal -

      by Mary Anne Hitt on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 08:11:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  If your health damage claim concerns (0+ / 0-)

        the 1 hr sulfur dioxide impacts from this plant, what does your modeling show about relationship between the 99% percentile value for the 3 year average of 1 hr SO2 ambient impact values from current emissions/operations and the level of the 1 hr SO2 NAAQS standard?

        In the case of that Maryland plant that had the very high SO2 impacts, EPA never found or determined that the area around the Maryland plant was a nonattainment area for the 1 hr SO2 standard.    This means Sierra Club's strategy won't actually reach effective control actions for SO2 against that facility.

        If you have modeling studies that show the ambient impacts to exceed the 1 hr SO2 standard or that the plant is otherwise jeopardizing compliance with a SO2 NAAQS, what strategy/litigation is SC pursuing against both of these plants that addresses the failure to comply with the SO2 NAAQS and which will lead to  State Implementation Plan limits to get the SO2 problems under control?

        Mercury emissions from that plant don't have anything to do with local respiratory health impacts or complaints in that North Omaha community as mercury emissions from power plants generally fail to cause ambient impacts exceeding mercury inhalation screening criteria published by U.S. EPA immediately around such facilities and mercury is not implicated at all in asthma and respiratory disease.

        If this facility is going to comply with the power plant MACT and continue operating as a base load coal fired plant, SC needs an effective  strategy to ensure that the plant becomes subject to SO2 NAAQS State Implementation Plan emission control rules.   It could also mean a higher, good engineering practice stack for the facility to address plume downwash if the facility has short discharge stacks.

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