This Wednesday night, the National Geographic Channel will feature Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in the season finale of the Emmy-winning climate series, Years of Living Dangerously. I’m so excited for you to see this episode, which takes you inside a campaign led by determined, compassionate local volunteers working to get a transition plan for the coal plant and bring in clean energy jobs to their Illinois community. At a time of so much national uncertainty and distress, this inspiring story of people power doesn’t just show you the heart and soul of the Beyond Coal Campaign - it’s a compelling reminder that grassroots leadership will always provide a path forward for justice, even in challenging times against difficult odds.
As a mom, I’m overwhelmed every time I meet yet another family coping with asthma exacerbated by nearby coal plant pollution.
It’s one of the reasons I was moved when I met Dulce Ortiz in Waukegan, Illinois. Like many families in Waukegan, she and her family are suffering from breathing problems that we know worsen with exposure to dangerous coal and air pollution. NRG Energy’s Waukegan coal plant remains the largest point source of both air and water pollution in Dulce’s entire county. At the same time, I’ve been inspired by her courage to speak out and organize, and by her commitment to fight for a better future for her son and her entire community of Waukegan.
You can see her leadership and others from Clean Power Lake County in this week’s episode of Years of Living Dangerously, which is hosted by actress America Ferrera and centers around the story of Dulce and the Clean Power Lake County Campaign (of which the Sierra Club is a member) in Waukegan.
I also make an appearance in the episode as the story is told -- as do several other Beyond Coal leaders and volunteers. Over the past decade I’ve had the great honor of standing with many local communities through campaigns like this one, and I’ve long wished that the story of the courageous and visionary local leaders who are shaping our energy future was being told. Here, finally, it is. The episode beautifully follows Dulce and the Clean Power Lake County team as they knock on doors, deliver petitions, go to the state capitol to lobby their legislators, march on the Waukegan coal plant, and even show up to NRG’s annual shareholder’s meeting.
They run into obstacles, both an unresponsive mayor and a fossil fuel giant NRG Energy, who are unwilling to hear community concerns, and along the way they re-calibrate to find new strategies and tactics to build a better future for their city. It’s this same tenacity and creativity, multiplied many times over, that has changed America’s energy landscape forever. Since 2010, 245 coal-fired power plants have been announced for retirement in the US -- almost half the coal plants in the nation -- and many of those communities have stories just like Waukegan’s, of local leaders determined to bring clean air, safe water, and sustainable economic opportunities to their families and neighbors. In fact, every year families across the nation will experience over 100,000 fewer asthma attacks and 6,700 fewer premature deaths thanks to this reduction in coal use.
I encourage you to watch some of the sneak previews from this episode - like this clip of America Ferrera meeting Dulce’s family.
And this clip showing more of the amazing local leaders in the episode:
Even better is that this story from Waukegan has one happy ending so far, a victory that the local leaders won in recent days, after the filming was done. One of the policies that Clean Power Lake County fights for in this episode -- ambitious state clean energy legislation that prioritizes, and was shaped by, low income communities and communities of color -- was just signed into law last week in the state of Illinois.
The work of the Clean Power Lake County Campaign is not yet complete, but I’m confident they’ll ultimately prevail, as so many communities before them have done. And in the meantime, as their work continues, I’m also confident their story will inspire you and everyone watching. In these challenging times for our country, people power is more important than ever, and ultimately, that’s the story of this episode, of Clean Power Lake County, of the Beyond Coal Campaign, and of our nation’s transition to clean energy. Because that progress is rooted in communities and campaigns like this one, we aren’t going backwards.
Please join me in tuning in to watch the story of the work of our brothers and sisters in Illinois on Wednesday, December 14 at 10 PM ET/ 9 PM CT on the National Geographic Channel. Get together with your friends and family -- this episode will give you hope for the new year!
And if you don’t have the National Geographic Channel, you can stream the episodes the day after they air on many different services - click here for details.
Please watch, spread the word on social media, and then join us as we keep making progress to power this nation with clean, renewable energy and provide a transition for fossil fuel communities. We need you, and your voice, now more than ever.