We just celebrated a milestone in NRDC’s work to end illegal and deadly ash pollution from the E.D. Edwards coal-fired power plant near Peoria, Illinois. Had the plant’s owners invested in the modern pollution controls they needed to comply with their permit limits for fine particles and opacity, several lives—and millions of dollars in hospitalization costs for cardiovascular disease—could have been saved. The owners never made that investment, and it’s taken years of litigation by NRDC, the Respiratory Health Association, and the Sierra Club to end the plant’s harmful pollution and help those who live and work around the plant move on.
On February 20, we gathered with our co-plaintiffs and three community partners—Central Illinois Healthy Community Alliance, Illinois People’s Action, and the Peoria NAACP chapter—to announce how we plan to allocate $8.6 million in funds for job training, bus electrification, energy efficiency, solar, and lung health programs in the greater Peoria area that have become available through our recent settlement with the plant’s owners.
Our grant decisions were not easy to make: We received more than forty proposals for a collective total of more than $35 million in funding. The applicants proposed a great deal of valuable and innovative work, and we wish we had been able to fund more of it. We’re grateful to our community partners for volunteering their time to help us publicize the settlement funding opportunity; review proposals and interview applicants; and ensure that Plaintiffs’ final funding decisions were informed by local knowledge and focused on the areas of greatest need.
How we got here
We filed our Clean Air Act lawsuit against the Edwards plant’s owners in 2013. In 2016, we won a ruling that owner Illinois Power Resources Generating, LLC (IPRG, now a subsidiary of Vistra Energy Corporation) was liable for thousands of Clean Air Act violations stretching back to 2008. The plant’s harmful and illegal pollution continued as we prepared for a remedy trial to help the court set the appropriate civil penalty for past Clean Air Act violations at Edwards and decide what pollution controls should be added to the plant to avoid future ones.
The court approved our settlement with IPRG in November 2019, a few months before trial was scheduled to start. In addition to providing the $8.6 million in local-project funding, it requires Edwards to close by the end of 2022, subject to regulatory approval.
Our settlement ensures that money that would otherwise have been paid to the U.S. Treasury (as a civil penalty) will be reinvested in the Peoria-area communities most affected by the plant’s pollution and upcoming closure. It should also save more lives and hospital visits than any new pollution controls the court could have ordered following trial. If air pollution from Edwards exceeds specified caps between now and closure, IPRG must make additional payments, which we’ll use to fund more energy efficiency and/or lung health work in the Peoria area.
The grant recipients we announced last month include local school districts, public health and transit agencies, and grassroots and larger nonprofit organizations working to build wealth in the communities most affected by the plant’s pollution and prospective closure.
We’ll start distributing settlement funds to recipients over the next few months, under grant agreements we’re working on now. Once the recipients start working with the funds, we should have much more to celebrate:
- Two school districts—the Hollis district that includes the Edwards plant, and the Pekin district across the river—will be able to ferry students in clean, quiet, all-electric buses that will reduce their exposure to stressful noise and dangerous diesel fumes.
- The Greater Peoria Mass Transit District will also use an electric bus for passengers riding one of its routes through Peoria’s South Side.
- Settlement-funded solar panels will be installed at the Peoria Public Schools’s Woodruff Career and Technical Center, the Romain Arts & Culture Community Center, and a new City firehouse on the South Side.
- Hundreds of Peoria-area residents will graduate from job training programs in fields including nursing, teaching, solar power, and green infrastructure.
- Others will benefit from settlement-supported lung health programs designed to help people recognize and treat asthma.
NRDC files and wins a lot of lawsuits, but not all of our lawsuits give us the chance to remedy harm to the environment and public health in ways that feel so personal and tangible. We’re grateful and proud to have had that chance in Peoria.