Clean Power Coalition-Southeast Wisconsin
Press Release

Shareholders Express Concerns About Coal Liability at WEC Annual Meeting

Neighbors of the Oak Creek Power Plant Demonstrate Outside

By - May 3rd, 2018 05:05 am
An aerial view of We Energies’ twin Oak Creek and Elm Road coal-fired power plants south of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Image from Google Earth.

An aerial view of We Energies’ twin Oak Creek and Elm Road coal-fired power plants south of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Image from Google Earth.

Mequon, WI – A group of WEC Energy Group shareholders and neighbors of the Oak Creek power plants gathered prior to the holding company’s annual meeting to make statements about their concerns over the financial liabilities of burning coal. The group also demonstrated along the road near the meeting location, holding signs about the harmful impact of coal and the benefits of renewable energy.

“I am dismayed and disturbed by the pollution issues at WEC’s Oak Creek coal plants,” said Natalie Chulew, a WEC Energy Group shareholder from Racine. “The bottom line is that coal plants are a liability to the company. As a shareholder, I would like to see WEC move in the direction of clean energy as quickly as possible.”

“Though I am a shareholder of WEC Energy Group and a customer of We Energies, I am very concerned that I, my children, grandchildren, and future generations will have a world where life as we have known it is impossible due to climate change,” said Terry Wiggins, a WEC Energy Group shareholder from Milwaukee. “I believe that WEC Energy Group has the moral responsibility to reduce its use of fossil fuels, primarily coal, and build more renewable energy, not gas or nuclear, but renewable. I therefore applaud WEC on the decision to shut down the Pleasant Prairie coal plant, and I also hope they will shut down the Oak Creek plants and build renewable energy to replace those as soon as possible.”

Neighbors of the coal plant urged shareholders to use their position of influence within the company to demand clean-up around the Oak Creek coal plants and a transition to clean energy.

“I’ve lived within the shadow of the Oak Creek  power plant for 14 years. I dread not just really windy days when coal dust flies around the neighborhood, but every day is frightening to know that pollutants from that coal burning plant fall onto our  land, into the water, and are dispersed into the air,” said Sister Janet Weyker, who lives just south of the Oak Creek coal plants. “I believe it is imperative that WE Energies works toward all renewable sources for our energy needs, not just 1/3 in some distant future.  The good health of all life, now and into the future, depends on clean water, air, and good soil.”

“I am conscious of the coal dust that blows off the train cars as they stand 500 feet from our house and gardens before they are emptied onto a pile of coal at the Oak Creek Power Plant east of us.  I think of the amount of dust that blows off each of the 150 cars loads into the atmosphere 3 times a day as they journey across the country from the Western states to Wisconsin,” said Sister Rose Marie Dischler, who also lives near the Oak Creek coal plants. “These toxic heavy metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic are accumulating in our environment. It is not right to expose our future generations to that pollution.”

Background: Families who live near We Energies’ coal-fired Oak Creek power plant have been complaining to the company for years about negative health effects they are suffering as a result of exposure to coal dust and coal ash emitted from the plant and the trains that deliver the coal. On March 5, winds blew dust from a coal storage pile at the Oak Creek plant into neighborhoods north of the plant. Test results confirmed the black dust found covering homes, cars, and yards in several Oak Creek neighborhoods was coal dust. Residents reported additional dustings between March 25 and March 28 after We Energies claimed to have taken additional steps to contain the dust. In the past several years, similar incidents have occurred 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 21, the Clean Power Coalition hosted a community discussion featuring local doctors and impacted residents to discuss coal’s harmful health impacts. On April 4, the CPC held a listening session attended by 160 people at which seven executives from We Energies, as well as Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) and WPPI Energy which co-own the newer of the two plants at the Oak Creek site, heard residents and others express their fears and frustrations.

The Clean Power Coalition-Southeast Wisconsin will educate the public about the dangers of burning coal on the health of those who live and work in the vicinity of We Energies’ South Oak Creek and Elm Road Power Plants. How we choose to generate electricity has consequences that reach far beyond the return on shareholder investment, affecting everything from public health to a stable climate. When air, water, and soil are polluted, health and life are put at risk. The Clean Power Coalition will promote public debate about the appropriate source of energy for Southeastern Wisconsin. At the same time, the coalition urges We Energies to: 1.) immediately contain the coal dust and other health hazards emanating from the Oak Creek plants, 2.) phase out its use of coal, and 3.) promote rather than obstruct the adoption of renewable energy throughout its service territory.

Clean Power Coalition convening member organizations: Eco Justice Center / Environmental Accountability Group / Greening Greater Racine / Racine Dominicans / Racine Green Party / Sierra Club, Beyond Coal Campaign / Sierra Club, Southeast Gateway Group / Wisconsin Interfaith Power and Light / 350 Milwaukee. Supporting member organizations: Citizens Acting for Rail Safety – Milwaukee Area / Gaia Coalition / NextGen America / Racine Coalition for Peace and Justice / Racine Interfaith Coalition / Wisconsin Green Muslims / Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

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