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Earth Day: Profiling Coal's Eco Heroes

As we remember the first Earth Day happening 40 years ago, it's also worth spending some time today thinking about our eco heroes, too. I thought I'd spend my post today talking about two fantastic women who are hard-working green heroes in the coal movement. Susan Holmes is behind the group Bokoshe Environmental Cause Group, or "BE Cause," a small but mighty environmental action group in Bokoshe, Oklahoma. She came together with some fellow residents when the nearby Shady Point I coal-fired power plant and coal fly ash dump proposed adding a second dump site. According to BE Cause, building the second plant would at least double if not triple the amount of fly ash dumped around Bokoshe. Susan had no background in science or anything energy-related, so she took to the internet to learn everything she could about coal and coal ash. "For me it was getting online and finding out what fly ash was," she said. "The more I looked, the more horrified I was about what we had in our backyard." After defeating the proposed second plant and ash dump with the help of the Center for Energy Matters, Susan didn’t stop her environmental work with BE Cause. She was spurred to more action when she heard a notice that Bokoshe's fly ash dump site was receiving large amounts of oil and gas wastewater from Arkansas in order to water down the fly ash site. Just as she did when she was first learning about fly ash, she educated herself quickly. "I got on the phone and internet to learn more and find out who to call, and I ended up talking to someone from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality," Susan explained. "They were aware of (the wastewater transfer) and said they'd shut down their landfills because of contamination from it. So now it was coming to us - around nine million gallons of oil and gas wastewater were being dumped over here every week! That water had to be going somewhere. They were using it to water down fly ash, but it goes somewhere once it's on the ground. We could tell the water wasn't staying on site." BE Cause finally went to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, with a huge presentation including photos and evidence. The next day they called the Environmental Protection Agency, and the EPA was out at the fly ash site the next day. Due to Susan's and BE Cause's work, EPA issued a cessation order on dumping oil and gas wastewater on the fly ash site because it was contaminating Buck Creek in violation of the Clean Water Act. My second eco hero of today is Anne Woiwode, director of the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club. She's worked for the Sierra Club for 25 years, starting off as a volunteer and then becoming one of the most respected environmental leaders in Michigan and across the country. Through Anne's dedication and extraordinary organizing skills, the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club has become one of the most influential advocacy groups in the state and one of the strongest chapters in the nation - especially when it comes to fighting against coal and for clean energy. For Anne, the battle against coal began earlier this decade with the help of the chapter's many dedicated volunteers. "I learned that there were five coal plant proposals in the state - and it was sort of an 'Oh my God, how did this happen?' moment," said Anne. "It was overwhelming." From there on, it was an all-out effort to educate state resident on the risks of coal and the benefits of clean energy. "We had to make sure people understood this was happening, as many had no clue that Michigan was becoming such a coal state," she explained. Anne and the chapter collaborated with many different groups, including Native American groups, unions and more, to raise awareness and take action against the proposed coal plants. "We've had this terrific group of people who have been coming up with great ways to tackle the issue. We all determined that we're not going to let Michigan build a new coal plant because it just doesn't make sense." Anne's determination paid off, they were able to stop the planned coal-fired power plant at Northern Michigan University, and they were pivotal is getting LS Power and Dynegy to drop plans for another plant. While the other three plants are still being battled, Anne and the chapter remain optimistic. "We're always looking at the next opportunity," she said. "The fight is not just about winning a particular battle, but it's about the whole of this effort. When a coal plant gets dropped, you have won something that will matter for generations." I hope these two green heroes inspire you this Earth Day to make a difference for our planet. Happy Earth Day!
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