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New group urges closing of plant

Date: 7/18/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE — A new effort to call attention to the health hazards brought by the Commonwealth's three active coal-burning electrical generation plants was kicked off last week in Holyoke.

Members of Coal Free Massachusetts called for the closing of the three plants: Salem Harbor Station, Brayton Point Station in Somerset and Mount Tom in Holyoke.

The new coalition consists of more than 40 groups ranging from Toxics Action Center to Sierra Club to religious organizations.

The coalition has called for the closing of the three plants by 2020; promote the growth of renewable energy resources; and develop transition plans for the three properties and their workers.

Speaking through a translator, Holyoke resident Carmen Concepcion said, "We don't want coal burning in our city anymore."

Concepcion sited the high rate of asthma in the city and the leakage of mercury from the plant into the Connecticut River.

A 2010 Clean Air Task Force report said annually in Massachusetts, 251 deaths, 211 hospital admissions and 471 heart attacks could be traced to pollution caused from plants that burn coal.

According to a fact sheet distributed at the press conference, the Northeastern states could save 20 percent in energy use just through efficiency and conservation practices and that Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources estimated the state could develop solar, wind, river and ocean generation of electricity to replace the 3,000 megawatts from the coal plants by 2020.

Claire Miller of Toxics Action Center said Holyoke is taking a step forward with the creation of a committee to work on a redevelopment plan for the Mount Tom property when it does close.

When asked about the limited amount of time the Mount Tom plant operates — apparently just for key peak times of electrical use — Miller said, "Pollution is pollution and at the end of the day, clean energy doesn't come out of a smokestack."

Miller disputed the ideas that coal can become "clean" as advocated by coal proponents.

"There is no such thing as 'clean coal,' she said. "It's dirty energy. There is no technology that can make it clean."

Miller did not say exactly how the coalition would achieve their goals as it had just formed.