Just Transition Away From Coal Illinois
Angela Smith is from the Southside of Peoria, Illinois, a city of around 100,000 located about 150 miles southwest of Chicago. Like others in her neighborhood, she raised her kids—six of them, now in their late teens to mid-twenties—in the shadow of Bartonville’s E.D. Edwards coal-fired power plant. Also like others, Smith suffers from respiratory problems she believes are linked to the plant’s decades of pollution. Over the years, her breathing issues got so bad that they triggered seizures. In addition to complicating her daily activities, Smith, a single mother, says these health problems caused her to miss out on critical employment opportunities.
So in November 2019, when she learned of the plant’s upcoming closure, Smith was relieved. But that was not the only good news. In February, she got word that Jubilee Ministries, the largely volunteer nonprofit where she works as an office manager and job coach, would benefit too. The organization is one of several Peoria-based nonprofits slated to receive some of the funds allocated for job training as part of the legal settlement agreement between the Vistra Energy subsidiary that owns and operates the plant and the environmental and public health groups, including NRDC, that sued the plant’s owners in 2013.
“We’re looking forward to helping the people who will be laid off when the plant closes,” Smith says. But many of Jubilee’s clients have never seen Edwards from the inside; rather, “most are from the south end where the plant is, and a lot of them are ex-offenders and felons,” she adds. “
The settlement agreement—which specifies that E.D. Edwards will close by the end of 2022 (subject to regulatory approval) and will also provide $8.6 million in funding for projects to benefit the greater Peoria region—is one of the first of its kind in the United States to support a just transition away from coal and toward a clean energy economy. As such, it has become a model for other communities where aging power plants are shuttering and taking a toll on local livelihoods.
The ensuing allocation of the $8.6 million, including $6.88 million to be used for public health or environmental projects that benefit the greater Peoria area and $1.72 million for projects that provide funding for job-training programs at Peoria-area schools and organizations, was a community-informed process. The judge’s decision set off a 90-day period to gather proposals from the community on how to award the funds. Three local partner groups—the Central Illinois Healthy Community Alliance, Illinois People’s Action, and the Peoria NAACP chapter—joined an advisory team that considered funding proposals and helped advise NRDC and its coplaintiffs’ final funding decisions.
Pollution from the Edwards plant has negatively impacted residents of certain areas, like the Southside, more than others. The plaintiffs sought out proposals for grants from the settlement funds that would uplift these communities, stating that their “intent is to see benefits flow to displaced Edwards plant employees as well as segments of the community most harmed by the Edwards plant’s air pollution, the changing climate, and the decades of socioeconomic and racial injustice.”
Learn more here: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/what-just-transition-looks
Policy summary courtesy of: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/revitalization-former-coal-town-starts-now
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