Rebecca MacLachlan of Middletown, Andy Bauer of Portland and many other Connecticut residents are being recognized for their leadership in the 2002 effort to protect the environment and the safety of people in Connecticut.
Members of the successful “Sooty Six” campaign have been selected from more than 100 nominees to receive one of Toxics Action Center’s 25 Years of Victories Awards. Award winners were chosen by a selection committee of distinguished environmental and public health professionals and were honored at the Environmental Action 2012 conference in Boston March 3.
Lois Gibbs of the 1970s Love Canal toxic cleanup case congratulated the winners. “Leaders of the Sooty Six campaign worked tirelessly alongside hundreds of other volunteers to clean up Connecticut’s air and deserve this award. Their important victory is a true testament to the power of citizen organizing and persistence. Over 150 citizen-based organizations came together around the goal of reducing dangerous pollution from Connecticut’s dirty power plants and together we won,” said Claire Miller, a community organizer with Toxics Action Center.
The “Sooty Six” campaign was coordinated by Clean Water Action and Toxics Action Center and set out to remove loopholes in our laws that had exempted power plants built before 1977 from modern pollution standards, resulting in 2-10 times more pollution from these aging power plants. Years of grassroots activity beginning in 1997 in communities and at the state capitol resulted in an Executive Order in 2000 issued by then Gov. Rowland which called for reductions in soot and smog pollution but included emissions trading loopholes which did not ensure reductions from each plant.
The citizens continued to press for restrictions on each plant and overcame business opposition to pass a clean-up bill through the Connecticut state legislature only to be thwarted by the governor’s veto in 2001. The Sooty Six leaders kept pressing for modern pollution standards. In 2002, the governor agreed to sign the first law in the nation to sharply reduce health-harming soot pollution from each power plant starting in 2005.
"I was, of course, very happy when the bill got signed into law, because we beat some very powerful players in the energy industry. But I can't really say I was surprised. Over the course of the campaign the lobbyists for the Sooty Six power plants had sometimes played fast and loose with the truth, and most lawmakers who backed them were won over by the facts we presented," says Andy Bauer of Portland.
By 2008, soot pollution from these power plants had been reduced by 86 percent. With the exception of Bridgeport Harbor coal-fired power plant, Connecticut no longer relies on these old and inefficient plants for everyday generation and mainly uses them to provide power at times of peak energy demand.
“Ten years later, we continue to work with these leaders. Folks like Andy — who is now part of the Portland Clean Energy Task Force, are incredible assets to clean energy work. Many of them cut their teeth in the Sooty Six years,” says Roger Smith of Clean Water Action. “This continues to be important today as we push for home-grown clean renewable energy in Connecticut.”
Just last month, Bauer hosted a geothermal and solar open house at his home in Portland. About 70 people showed up for a tour. Bauer brags now that he longer needs the oil company to make stops at this house.
These days, Mclachlan works with a group called . It is a local group that is working to educate residents about the hazards of lawncare chemicals in the environment and especially on our children and pets. They are also working with the to make all of the city properties chemical-free as well.
"We were the first state to pass a sulfur dioxide cap. Almost no one in the power industry thought that could happen. The fact that Connecticut put one in place gave a boost to efforts in other states concerned about improving air quality and its effect on public health. Plus, it paved the way for regular citizens to promote alternatives like clean energy and energy efficiency," says Bauer, speaking to why the victory was important.
"The legacy of the Sooty Six lives on today," says Smith. "Our elected officials know this is a state that strongly supports clean air and clean energy. Connecticut can continue our progress by investing in energy efficiency here in state and wind power projects in our regional power grid."
The 25 Years of Victories Awards recognize 25 of the most successful local efforts to clean up or prevent toxic pollution across New England between 1987 and 2012. Those years correspond with the 25 years that Toxics Action Center, an environmental group based in Hartford, has been working with neighborhoods and community leaders.
Toxics Action Center was founded in 1987 after the tragic case in Woburn, Mass., that A Civil Action is based on. The mothers of Woburn took action to protect their health of their children when the chemical company W.R. Grace contaminated their drinking water. The Woburn leukemia-cluster eventually claimed the lives of 14 children.
In response, a group of public health and environmental advocates created an organization to help residents who faced their own Woburn situations. Toxics Action Center began organizing citizens to raise and pass ballot initiatives to protect citizens from harmful toxic waste. Today, Toxics Action Center has offices in every New England state and works with over 80 communities each year.
“I don't we would've won without Toxics Action Center. Toxics Action provided technical data, materials, organizational support, tips on testifying at hearings and talking to the media. Their staff trained us how to put these things in play. Once we were armed with the truth and how to use it, a positive ending was only a matter of time," says Bauer.
"The partnership between Clean Water Action and Toxics Action Center 10 years ago lives on today," says Miller. "It's a victory that none of us will forget anytime soon." Toxics Action Center has worked side by side with over 700 communities and directly trained over 10,000 people.