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A coal-free New England is a victory for the entire country 

An office with a view. It’s such a common phrase in the professional world and a goal many strive for. For 20 years, the view from my desk has been of the Merrimack Station coal plant in Bow, N.H., as it spews pollution. 

But today, the view is far better than the polluted air I — along with those throughout the greater Concord, New Hampshire region — have been saddled with.  

Today starts a new era, not only for New Hampshire but for all of New England. Today, New England is officially going coal-free. After decades of work and tireless advocacy, Granite Shore Power has announced plans to retire New England’s last two coal plants: Merrimack and Schiller stations in New Hampshire, bringing 560 megawatts of dirty power offline.  

For years, New Hampshire has reported some of the highest asthma rates in the country. Just above 12 percent of the state’s adults and children — 136,025 people — have asthma. In addition to particle pollution, Merrimack and Schiller’s thermal discharges into the Merrimack and Piscataqua Rivers have disrupted aquatic ecosystems, leading to the proliferation of invasive species.  

But our story is one seen in communities across the country. 

The Merrimack and Schiller stations are the 380th and 381st coal plant retirements the Sierra Club has championed alongside community and climate advocates. While bad actors attempt to blame common sense rules and standards put forth by the Environmental Protection Agency, the fact is that these plants have retired because of one simple truth: people demand clean air and water.  

In 2009, when we started the campaign to retire New England’s coal fleet, there were eight operating coal plants across the region. In 2010, air pollution from New England’s coal plants was responsible for an estimated 1,000 asthma attacks, 117 heart attacks and 64 premature deaths. The only rooms that may find this acceptable are those occupied by coal barons and the politicians in their pockets. 

I’m proud to be one of the millions who have stood up to the fossil fuel industry and used my voice to support stronger national standards for power plant pollution. Across the country, we’ve pushed the Biden administration to finally hold coal plant operators accountable for the harm they do. In the last three years alone, we’ve achieved stronger proposed standards for deadly soot pollution, climate-destabilizing carbon pollution, mercury and heavy metals, cross-state smog pollution, toxic coal ash and much more.  

By reducing air pollution from coal plants, these standards will prevent thousands of premature deaths, avoid asthma attacks and trips to the emergency room for respiratory problems, keep kids in school and avoid lost workdays due to poor air quality. Simply put, they’re some of the strongest and most effective tools available to meet our goals to ensure a safe and habitable planet for future generations. These victories were not achieved overnight or without a fight, and our diverse, people-powered movement stood up to fierce opposition from the fossil fuel industry to make these standards a reality.  

But ”less deadly” coal plants will never be acceptable. We demand — and deserve — clean air and water, and that’s what has driven the success of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. 

Across the country, the effort to retire coal plants has resulted in more than 54,000 lives saved and prevented more than 84,000 heart attacks and nearly 893,000 asthma attacks while saving more than $25 billion in health care costs nationwide. That’s why our movement not only thrives but also continues to grow. 

Thankfully, just as it already has in 15 states, polluting, air-poisoning coal will soon come offline in the Granite State. With coal’s end, a new age of cleaner air, healthier communities and more renewable energy solutions is on the horizon. There’s already an abundance of readily available clean energy alternatives to coal. With the help of President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, states have kickstarted the growth of clean energy to power our homes and communities, creating millions of jobs along the way and lowering energy costs. 

Since that landmark legislation was signed into law less than two years ago, there have already been more than $350 billion in clean energy investments announced across the nation. This investment has created new jobs — more than 270,000, to be exact — in everything from electric vehicles to battery storage systems and wind and solar power components. These new clean technology and renewable energy jobs are not only transformative for the workers they hire, they’re a commitment to helping future-proof our economy and ensure that America can and will lead the world economy and power our energy independence while addressing the climate crisis.

It will take all of our continued efforts to forge the clean energy future we want in our communities. As Merrimack Station moves from operational to retired, its presence outside my office window will no longer be a blight. Instead, it will signify coal power is waning and people’s power will never waver. A healthier New England and United States awaits.

Cathy Corkery is the Sierra Club’s chapter director and senior field organizer for New Hampshire.

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