Victory in Holyoke! Mt. Tom Coal Plant Announces Closure Date
Following years of community pressure, the world’s largest utility will close the Mt. Tom Coal Plant, an aging structure just inside the bounds of the city of Holyoke. The Neighbor to Neighbor-led Action for a Health Holyoke! (AHH!) coalition has cited Holyoke’s childhood asthma rate – triple that of the rest of the state – as a primary reason to close the plant. The closure is scheduled for October.
The decision by plant owner GDF-Suez comes on the heels of the Obama administration’s renewed push to reduce air pollution. President Barack Obama linked power plant air pollution to asthma and other pulmonary diseases in a series of public speeches this week.
Holyoke residents know the problem all too well.
“I’m pleased with the news because now we will have less air pollution and we can all breathe easier,” said Vilma Vazquez, a Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N) member who has been involved with the AHH! Campaign since its founding.
Vilma and other N2N members have been fighting against the coal plant since 2011. AHH! has gathered support from the mayor of Holyoke and local state representatives, educated local high school students and community members, and met with representatives of GDF-Suez to express their concerns.
N2N member Carmelo Diaz said he is pleased to hear that the plant is closing and might be rebuilt to produce solar power, but he is concerned about the environmental consequences of the last 54 years of burning coal.
“Back in Puerto Rico I’ve seen a coal plant that closed without cleaning up its mess,” Diaz said. Areas of concern include testing the soil for toxins left behind, and cleaning up coal ash, which wreaks havoc on waterways.
The AHH! coalition is continuing its work to ensure that GDF-Suez works together with local groups, workers, and their union on a responsible transition plan that honors their workers’ contract, ensures proper cleanup and remediation of the site, and provides support for the community. In 2012, AHH! requested that the City of Holyoke form a Community Advisory Group to plan for a just transition. Recently, the City of Holyoke was awarded a $100,000 grant from the State of Massachusetts for reuse and redevelopment planning in anticipation of the plant’s retirement.
N2N members and AHH! coalition partners have received the news with cautious optimism.
“The asthma rate in Holyoke is twice the state average and my wife, Rosa, suffers from terrible asthma herself,” said N2N community leader and AHH! participant Carlos Rodriguez. “So, while we are very glad to know our air will be cleaner, responsible retirement also means working with our community and the workers for cleanup and transition.”
Carlos Rodriguez, Neighbor to Neighbor, Holyoke resident, 413-210-4030
Lena Entin, Neighbor to Neighbor Holyoke Organizer, 413-210-4217, firstname.lastname@example.org