Coal combustion produces smog, soot, acid rain, mercury, and groundwater contamination, in addition to carbon dioxide pollution, which is a leading cause of climate change. All this means coal plants can be the leading cause of public health concerns in many communities. The American people are sick of it, supporting modern pollution control standards to reign in these rampant toxins. The costs of public health are too high to do otherwise.
While coal was once king of the energy scene in the Midwest, today it is less competitive than clean energy alternatives like wind and solar, which have boomed across the Midwest. Even the Trump administration’s attempts to roll back common-sense science-based standards have not been able to prop up the failing coal industry. Many coal mine owners and plant operators are shutting down facilities, as utilities shift to smart long-term investments in cleaner energy options. For example, the Northern Indiana Public Service Co. which plans to be coal-free by 2028, and just this year, renewable energy produced more electricity than coal for a record 40 straight days.
ELPC and our grassroots coalitions across the Midwest take on old, dirty coal plants, requiring them to clean up or shut down. For example, after we passed new mercury standards in Illinois and worked with community advocacy groups, we saw the Fisk & Crawford Chicago coal plants shut down in 2011. Thanks to our fight for strong multipollutant standards in 2019, we saw the closer of several Illinois Dynegy plants last fall. Most recently, we won a successful settlement in February 2020 after nearly seven years of fighting for clean air in Central Illinois. The E.D. Edwards coal plant will shut down by 2022, and the local community will see millions of dollars in new investments to improve clean transportation, renewable energy, job training opportunities, and public health. Read more about this story here.
ELPC is using legal and policy solutions to protect waters and communities from coal ash contamination. Following the rupturing of a dike in 2008 in Tennessee, which resulted in over 1 billion gallons of coal ash released into a river, US EPA began developing rules to regulate coal ash. ELPC has advocated for the clean-up of coal ash both federally and at the state level in the Midwest. In 2019, the Illinois legislature passed the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, which calls for the Illinois Pollution Control Board to adopt rules for a permitting program to regulate and clean up coal ash impoundments. ELPC is working with its environmental partners before the board to advocate for rules that will protect our waters and guarantee meaningful public participation in this process, especially for vulnerable communities.
The federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act requires coal mine operators to provide financial assurances that the cost of cleaning up—“reclaiming”—coal mines will be covered when the mine is closed or if the operator abandons the mine or goes out of business. Over the years, the coal industry has managed to create loopholes and take advantage of poorly structured state programs for enforcing these financial requirements, shifting the risk of paying to clean up hazardous coal mines to neighboring communities and state taxpayers. ELPC advocacy is closing those loopholes. At the same time, ELPC participates in coal company bankruptcy proceedings to make sure environmental obligations are accounted for.
Our policy and legal experts fight the Trump administration and coal lobbyists to protect important federal standards like the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and to ensure the Clean Air Act are actually enforced. Under these standards, modern pollution-control technologies have proven effective when installed, reducing toxic air pollutants like mercury, lead, and arsenic. We also monitor for issues at the local level. For example, when Dynegy coal plants struck a back-door deal with Governor Rauner’s Illinois EPA to double allowances for pollution emissions at their dirtiest downstate plants, ELPC shone a light on this corruption to protect the public.
Many of the Midwest’s largest utilities are planning to wind down their use of fossil fuels as they ramp up renewable energy, not out of altruism but because the economics make sense. Unfortunately, many other utilities are still relying on old ways of thinking and outdated dirty fossil fuels. ELPC intervenes in rate cases and long-term planning processes to ensure renewable energy is fully and fairly considered as a viable option to support the Midwest’s energy needs.