Kicking the Coal Habit (2004)

In the early 2000s, I became involved with the Environment Committee of the West Side Citizens' Organization.  When we'd moved into our home on the West Side in 1998, I could see a large smokestack through my bedroom window.  I was shocked to learn that the High Bridge power plant was a coalburning utility, right in my neighborhood.  This started my volunteer activism: I researched the negative effects of coal-generated electricity, started the Clean Energy Now coalition, and helped organize community members here and in Minneapolis to band together and empower people to ask for what they wanted.

Together we created a big victory when Xcel agreed to convert both the High Bridge and Riverside plants to natural gas.  Since the 1970s Clean Air Act, only 3 coalburning utilities in the entire nation had converted plants to natural gas.  We got two more to convert right here in the Twin Cities.

That's the kind of progress and leadership St. Paul needs to take on energy policy — and to address other issues.

This short documentary shows you how we did it.

So what's next?  We can't stop there.  Natural gas is just a stopgap measure.  Let's invest in community-owned solar and help people (especially low-income renters) to live in energy-efficient housing and save money.

"Kicking the Coal Habit mixes high-speed graphics with a powerful narrative of movement success.  This carefully produced fifteen-minute film documents a strong coalition of community activists in the Twin Cities who forced a corporation to clean up a series of coal plants. With a focus on the grassroots citizen movements organizing, this film gives a self-documented example of a community defeating a large corporation.

Highlighting environmental justice concerns and health justifications, this film showcases the successful community intervention into the system of politics. The Clean Energy Now coalition organized citizens to document the impact of air pollution on their daily live and used that testimony to pressure the corporation to accept a substantial clean up. Perhaps most persuasive is the voice of Seitu Jones, who connects the organizing among the communities of color who eat fish from the river near the polluting plants and the terrible health effects of mercury. Also potent is Paula Maccabee, an Environmental Health Consultant who articulates a movement strategy that highlighted health impacts, created alliances across traditional boundaries, and forced accountability of public leaders to build a rare environmental victory in the Bush epoch.

This movie is an essential teaching tool for every activist who can use the Clean Energy Now campaign as a model of alliance building and leader accountability to help clean their community. It also provides a useful teaching tool (I've used it twice in classes already). It is also provides an important rejoinder to the corporate media who have spun the successful clean up as a corporate driven initiative. Perhaps most powerfully, it offers wearied progressives a rare victory."
-Maxwell Schnurer (Clamor Magazine)

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