It’s not like the fate of the Earth is at stake. Actually, it is.
In an effort to halt global warming, Environment Ohio, a nonprofit environmental activist group, is waging an uphill battle to limit power plant pollution by gathering petition signatures and supporters in Lorain County.
The group began collecting signatures in early September on a petition, which it plans to present to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, asking him to lobby the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to lobby for stricter standards for existing coal-fired power plants. The group is seeking 2,000 signatures by Dec. 6 and is also doing a letter-writing drive.
Petition drives are also occurring in Athens, Cincinnati and Cleveland, according to Gus Fugitt, an Environment Ohio organizer overseeing the Lorain County campaign. Fugitt said Brown has a good environmental record, but petitions will give Brown more leverage against the coal and gas industry, which is spending millions fighting stricter regulation through advertising, political lobbying and lawsuits. The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a challenge to EPA regulation of greenhouse gases.
“It is a very controversial issue,” Fugitt said during Oct. 4 petitioning outside George Daniel Field in Lorain before a Lorain High School football game. “There’s a lot at stake.”
Fugitt, a 22-year-old organizer from Madison, Wis., and recent college graduate, said he’s recruited about 30 volunteers to help in the drive.
They include Alyssa Cowlings, a 24-year-old Lorain resident and mother of a 3-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter. Cowlings said deadly weather like last year’s superstorm Sandy are proof of the effects of global warming if it goes unchecked.
“I want the world to be a better place,” Cowlings said. “Anything I can do to help and protect my children for the future is good.”
The petition drive comes in the wake of a damning new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The organization, founded in 1988 by the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization, is the foremost expert on global warming, also known as climate change.
The Sept. 27 report found evidence of global warming was “unequivocal” and changes since the 1950s are “unprecedented.” Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer than any previous decade since 1850, and 1983-2012 was the warmest 30-year period in 1,400 years.
The report found melting glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland and rising sea levels and said carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have reached levels unprecedented in the last 800,000 years. It said human influence was “extremely likely” to have been the “dominant” cause of warming since the mid-20th century.
Coal-fired plants are one of the major sources of carbon and an Environment Ohio report found Ohio has the second-most polluting plants in the nation. The former Genon power plant in Avon Lake was the biggest greenhouse gas polluter — most of it carbon dioxide — in Lorain County in 2010, according to the EPA.
The plant, which was to close due to proposed stricter emissions standards, was bought by NRG Energy, which is retrofitting it to burn natural gas. NRG said in June that the switch would allow it to meet stricter standards.
A 2012 study by the liberal Economic Policy Institute, a Washington D.C. think tank, projected stricter standards would actually create a net gain of 107,000 new jobs primarily due to investments in cleaner technology and pollution abatement. However, stricter standards create fear of lost jobs. Avon Lake and Avon Lake Schools officials complained about lost jobs and tax revenue when the Genon plant was slated to close, and the issue of jobs versus stricter standards was broached during the 2012 presidential campaign.
Steve Cawthon, one of those signing a petition Oct. 4, acknowledged the environment/economic debate. Cawthon, a 44-year-old Amherst resident and Lorain High School social studies teacher, said he opposes a “tree hugger mentality” that doesn’t factor in whether jobs will be lost to stricter environmental regulations. However, Cawthon said he worries about the world his 19-year-old and 10-year-old daughters will inherit if climate change isn’t reversed.
“It kind of bothers me that some of the politicians today kind of fluff it off as not even something that should be considered,” Cawthon said. “It’s definitely something that has to be on the table, and if it’s not, we’re burying our head in the sand.”
Albert Williams, a 63-year-old Lorain resident and welder, also signed a petition Oct. 4. Williams said technology allowing plants to burn cleaner and renewable energies like solar and wind should create jobs offsetting those lost from the closing of dirty plants. Williams said he supports stricter environmental regulation to arrest climate change.
“Something’s got to be done. The polar (ice) cap is decreasing. The animals are going through stress, and we’re going through stress,” he said. “Climate change is really bad and it’s getting worse.”
Besides helping gather signatures, Environment Ohio is also recruiting volunteers to push for environmental issues after the drive concludes.
Fugitt said he’s heard a lot of concerns from petition signers and volunteers about the pollution in the Black River and Lake Erie.
“People really do care about this stuff and are anxious to do something about it, but they haven’t had a chance until now,” he said. “The sky is the limit. It’s just the will of the volunteers and the leadership that gets put in place this fall.”