Residents Near Oak Creek Coal Plants Demand Clean Energy Transition and End To Pollution
Over 160 People Attend Meeting with We Energies, MGE, and WPPI Energy Representatives
Oak Creek, WI – The Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin hosted a listening session Wednesday evening that provided a forum for area residents in attendance to express their concerns, complaints, stories, and suggestions about the Oak Creek coal plants directly to representatives from the utilities that own them. Approximately 160 people packed into the room at the Oak Creek Library for the meeting.
A number of individuals talked about health concerns related to coal dust that blows from storage piles. On March 5, winds blew dust from a coal storage pile into neighborhoods north of the plant. Residents reported numerous additional dustings since, even after We Energies claimed to have taken additional steps to contain the dust. In the past several years, similar incidents have occurred frequently in other neighborhoods, especially to the south of the plant. Coal contains toxic metals including lead, mercury, and arsenic. The health effects of inhalable particulate matter such as coal dust include aggravation of asthma, respiratory symptoms, an increase in hospital emissions, and increased mortality from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and lung cancer.
“On March 5th, my husband and I were both very sick. We both attempted to get ready for work, but eventually caved and decided to stay home. I took my children to school. When I came back, I wiped the windshield wipers and noticed coal dust – a lot of it. Everywhere. The more I looked, the more I saw it. On our vehicles, the air conditioner, the patio table. It looked like black powdered sugar,” said Michelle Jeske, a mother of four who lives in Oak Creek just north of the coal plants. “Now, I know it’s there because I look for it, and I find it almost every other day. A pile that size should not be allowed to be that close to that many people.”
Greg Millard, another nearby resident, agreed. “We keep getting blown off. They said this was a rare occurrence; last month, we had four rare occurrences! We Energies, keep the coal in your yard, not in our yard.”
“I’ve been living near the railroad tracks for the last eleven years. I have vegetable gardens and fruit trees that are about 100 yards from the coal trains. Besides growing the food for ourselves, we have sent food to the food pantry and food desert areas of Racine. These tracks carry around 150 carloads of coal three times a day. If the wind is in the right direction — often it is a strong wind — the dust blows right into our yard and house,” said Sister Rose Marie Dischler, a member of the Racine Dominicans who lives at the Eco-Justice Center. “At my last physical a year ago, they found a spot on my lungs. The coal dust is accumulating in the air every day. It’s not going away. Each of us is in danger now, and what are we leaving for our children? I’m asking that you please work on replacing coal with renewable energy.”
“We have an obligation to our community to change for the better. We can no longer let fossil fuel companies dictate science and policies that affect our future. We need to invest in renewables. We can pay for it now, for the change, or we’ll end up paying for it later, but if we wait, there’s a possibility that we may never get the chance,” said Maureen Wolff, a Caledonia resident. “I’ve lived there, just south of the coal plants, all my life, and it’s gone from bad to worse. It’s not just the decline in land, water, and air quality; the coal trains are constant and the noise pollution is terrible.”
During the event, Tom Metcalfe, the Executive Vice President of WEC Energy Group, announced new steps We Energies plans to take to reduce coal dust from the pile. These steps include the establishment of an air monitor north of the plant, lowering the height of the coal pile, using crusting agents to reduce blow-off, and eventually building more wind barriers around the pile. However, many residents weren’t satisfied with this announcement.
“I’m skeptical, all right? I’ve heard this many times. I’ve found coal in my house. I live right there by the tracks, I see it all the time,” said Charlie Michna, a Caledonia resident. “What we really want is a hotline, 24-7. Who can we call? Who are we going to be able to get ahold of?”
“You spoke, Tom, about things you were going to do to address the problem. I noticed that everything you mentioned was about coal dust,” said Carl Lindner, a Racine resident. “This is about more than just containing coal dust. The ultimate goal — and I hope by ultimate, it doesn’t mean way, way down the road — is renewable energy.”
“I didn’t hear you talk much about the coal trains that keep going by our place, kicking up dust when the wind’s blowing,” commented Sister Rose Marie Dischler. “Coal is coal. We need to hear that you are putting an end to coal. Why spend all this money containing the coal when you could be investing in a transition to renewable energy?”
“We are pleased that We Energies, MG&E and WPPI attended our Listening Session and agreed to take additional steps to address coal dust from the north pile, including putting up a monitor as we requested back in January” remarked Dana LaFontsee, a spokesperson for the Clean Power Coalition. “But what we really want is for these utilities to take action that will once and for all stop the harm their coal plants are causing to families in southeast Wisconsin: replace their coal plants with clean, renewable energy. We will not accept their inaction and excuses.”
A video of the full Listening Session is available at https://www.facebook.com/cleanpowersoutheast/
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