This column was co-written by Bruce Nilles, senior director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign.
We have big news to close out a remarkable week of highs (Michael Bloomberg re-investing in the Beyond Coal campaign) and lows (Scott Pruitt’s announcement of a Clean Power Plan repeal): half the coal plants in the U.S. are now announced to retire. Today, Luminant Energy announced it will close two of the nation’s largest and dirtiest coal plants in Central Texas, Big Brown and Sandow. That brings the nation to a major milestone ― more than half of the coal plants in America have now retired or committed to retire since 2010. With today’s announcement, 262 coal plants have either retired or announced that they will retire, with 261 plants still remaining.
Despite a federal administration tripping over itself to pander to a small handful of executives and Wall Street firms that gambled on coal, clean energy like wind and solar is rapidly replacing costly, polluting coal plants across the country as America transitions to a clean energy economy.
These plants are the 13th and 14th coal plants to announce retirement in 2017. As Michael Bloomberg and the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune noted at our press conference on Wednesday, coal plants are retiring during Trump’s administration at the same pace as they were during the Obama administration. Coal is not coming back, which is why we as a nation need to prioritize and support diversifying the economy in coal communities, to provide good 21st century jobs in those places that can sustain families and the generations.
This watershed moment in clean air and water advocacy across the country is also a milestone for public health. The two plants being announced for retirement today are some of the most polluting in the country ― for example, Big Brown is one of the nation’s top five mercury polluters. Nationwide, since 2010, coal retirements secured by the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign and over a hundred allied organizations have prevented 7,029 premature deaths, 10,906 heart attacks and 116,043 asthma attacks every year.
This is also an affirmation to the rest of the world that the U.S. will continue to do its part to cut carbon pollution and prevent the worst impacts of climate change. For the past decade, the U.S. has led the world in reducing carbon pollution, primarily by replacing coal plants with clean energy. With today’s announcement we are letting the world know that they should ignore the hot air out of Washington and look at what is actually happening in cities and states across this great country. As storms and fires worsened by climate change relentlessly besiege our country, continuing this progress is more important than ever.
We could not have reached this milestone without thousands upon thousands of amazing grassroots activists and organizers nationwide. They continue to boldly act for cleaner air and water, coal industry worker transition, good union jobs in the clean energy industry, a safe climate for our kids, and so much more. We also would not be here without over one hundred allied organizations, including in Texas our partners at Earthjustice, National Parks Conservation Association, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Together we are making a difference ― and we’re not slowing down. Join us.