For the past five years, Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, along with other JMF Clean Energy Program grantees Conservation Law Foundation and Toxics Action Center, have been working to close the Mount Tom Coal Plant in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and replace it with a clean energy alternative. In late 2014 GDF SUEZ, one of the world’s largest energy companies, announced it would be closing the plant. The plant owners recently agreed to requests from local advocates and the Holyoke community to replace the coal plant with a solar facility.
This tremendous success is a testament to the smart approach the coalition took from the start of their campaign. After witnessing the impacts of high asthma rates and other cardiovascular diseases in the Holyoke community – caused in part by the coal plant’s toxic emissions – Neighbor to Neighbor decided to embark on its first environmental campaign, but knew it would need help. Conservation Law Foundation helped Neighbor to Neighbor understand all of the legal tools at its disposal, while Toxics Action Center helped train the organization’s advocates. Together, this coalition understood that shutting the plant wasn’t enough – it needed to present a positive vision for the future of the site, help plant workers transition into new jobs and help fill the hole in local tax revenue that closing the plant would create.
That’s why from the beginning of the campaign, advocates pushed for a re-use study and just transition plan for plant workers. They coordinated with the labor union, the city and state politicians to build the political will at the right levels of government to close the plant and implement their alternative vision. Through this careful planning, Neighbor to Neighbor, Conservation Law Foundation, Toxics Action Center and their allies have put into place a textbook example of how to effectively run community-based environmental campaigns.