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August / 2016

Neighbor to Neighbor

Neighbor to Neighbor has brought community voices to the table to ensure one of the first “just” transitions from coal to solar in the nation at the Mount Tom power plant in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Neighbor to Neighbor’s Action for Healthy Holyoke (AHH) campaign has been built on the leadership of the New American Majority – people of color, immigrants, and the working class – which has allowed it to move beyond shutting down a coal plant to organizing for a clean energy future that meets the needs of low-income communities of color.

While the environmental movement has at times been pitted against the labor movement, Neighbor to Neighbor organizes at the intersection of economic, racial, and environmental justice. The original leaders of the AHH campaign, Carmelo Diaz and Virgenmina Perez, were personally affected by asthma induced by poor air quality and lived near contaminated plants that leaked hazardous materials in their native Puerto Rico.  Both lost their jobs in Holyoke when their companies relocated abroad, and they knew that fighting for a just transition beyond coal included advocating for the coal plant’s workers and ensuring a bright future for the city – with a thorough cleanup and the creation of green jobs.

The Mount Tom coal plant in Holyoke has been contaminating the area’s air and water for over 50 years.  In 2014, Neighbor to Neighbor partnered with other groups such as Toxics Action Center and the Conservation Law Foundation to ensure the closure of the dirty plant, a process hastened by changes in the energy market that severely threatened its economic stability.  In 2015, Action for a Healthy Holyoke members oversaw a community re-use study process and secured commitments from owner GDF-Suez to convert the plant to solar energy and to demolish the current building, including its highly-contaminated smokestack.

Neighbor to Neighbor continues to build the movement for climate justice by knocking on doors in frontline communities in Holyoke, Springfield, and Lynn, and by conducting popular education on the connections between day-to-day challenges like the lack of good jobs and affordable housing and the urgent need for renewable energy and resilient communities in the face of climate change. Every step of the way, Neighbor to Neighbor seeks to make state and local environmental policy and energy institutions meet the needs of low-income communities of color.