For the past five years, Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, along with other JMF Clean Energy Program grantees Conservation Law Foundation and Toxics Action Center, have been working to close the Mount Tom Coal Plant in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and replace it with a clean energy alternative. In late 2014 GDF SUEZ, one of the world’s largest energy companies, announced it would be closing the plant. Just last month, the plant owners agreed to requests from local advocates and the Holyoke community to replace the coal plant with a solar facility.
This tremendous success is a testament to the smart approach the coalition took from the start of their campaign. After witnessing the impacts of high asthma rates and other cardiovascular diseases in the Holyoke community – caused in part by the coal plant’s toxic emissions – Neighbor to Neighbor decided to embark on its first environmental campaign, but knew it would need help. Conservation Law Foundation helped Neighbor to Neighbor understand all of the legal tools at its disposal, while Toxics Action Center helped train the organization’s advocates. Together, this coalition understood that shutting the plant wasn’t enough – it needed to present a positive vision for the future of the site, help plant workers transition into new jobs and help fill the hole in local tax revenue that closing the plant would create.
That’s why from the beginning of the campaign, advocates pushed for a re-use study and just transition plan for plant workers. They coordinated with the labor union, the city and state politicians to build the political will at the right levels of government to close the plant and implement their alternative vision. Through this careful planning, Neighbor to Neighbor, Conservation Law Foundation, Toxics Action Center and their allies have put into place a textbook example of how to effectively run community-based environmental campaigns.
A recent study commissioned by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and supported by the John Merck Fund demonstrates that building new natural gas pipelines is not the most effective way of reducing energy costs for the state. Instead, the study suggested that building the pipelines would cost $13 million more than simply investing in energy efficiency and rewarding customers for conserving energy during periods of high demand.
The four natural pipelines proposed in New England, including the controversial Kinder Morgan and Algonquin extension will increase the use of natural gas and contribute to worsening climate change. This study clearly presents a better route forward – one that both saves money and reduces the region’s carbon footprint.
In March 2011, a devastating earthquake and tsunami caused a power outage at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima Japan. As a result, four reactors exploded, melting down three nuclear cores and releasing radiation from a fourth.
This disaster prompted former John Merck Fund program officer, Anna Baker, to investigate the Pilgrim Nuclear Station in Plymouth, Mass. She discovered that the reactors were the same model – and had the same flaws – as those in Japan. During the Fukushima disaster, Japanese authorities evacuated a 50-mile radius around the plant. That same radius around the Pilgrim Plant is home to nearly 5 million people.
Anna, her neighbors and local advocacy organizations quickly banded together to highlight safety issues plaguing the Pilgrim Plant, hoping to prevent a similar disaster in their backyards. This week, Pilgrim’s parent company, Entergy Corp, announced it would close the plant, citing in part the costs of complying with safety, public health and environmental regulations.
The nuclear reactors in question – manufactured by General Electric in the 1970s – have had safety issues since they were first produced. Three engineers even quit the company in protest of safety shortcomings on this specific model. The Pilgrim Plant also has had numerous safety issues, including power outages and problems with a safety valve that prompted the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to downgrade the safety rating of the reactor, naming it one of the three least safe reactors in the country.
Anna and her neighbors created a coalition of 27 groups and more than 600 members to respond to these safety concerns. They gave cover to whistleblowers within the plant, organized opposition in local government, and monitored activities at the facility to ensure elected officials and regulators knew of ongoing violations at the plant. Without these dedicated individuals, it is hard to say if or when regulators would have confronted Pilgrim’s ongoing problems.
The coalition’s work isn’t over. The plant could potentially operate through June 2019, and decommissioning the plant and handling nuclear waste will present ongoing challenges to the community. Still, the John Merck Fund applauds the coalition for its role in decommissioning the Pilgrim Plant, and we have confidence it will be an effective watchdog as this process continues.
September 28 , 2015
Gary Cohen, who was the second recipient of JMF's Sparkplug Award in 2007, was named a 2015 MacArthur Fellow, a distinction accompanied by a $625,000 grant paid out over five years. The John Merck Fund congratulates him on this accomplishment.
Gary is a social entrepreneur and activist spurring environmental responsibility in health care both in the United States and abroad. In 1996, he co-founded Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), initially a grassroots cooperative, to bring attention to the fact that American hospitals had been major contributors to environmental pollution and had been largely ignoring the damage to local communities and environments caused by extensive use of harmful chemicals in medical devices, toxic cleaning agents, reliance on fossil fuels, and disposal of waste via incineration. Gary has led a paradigm shift in the perceived responsibility of health care providers, from a narrow, patient-centered duty of service regarding individual health to a broader obligation to also “do no harm” to surrounding communities, their residents, and the global environment.
He has since expanded HCWH’s mission to engage environmental scientists, medical professionals, and institutional leadership around the broader challenges of sustainability, climate change, and community health. To that end, he has also founded or co-founded other organizations, including the Healthy Hospitals Initiative, a data-driven platform that guides hospitals in purchasing safer chemicals and healthy food and implementing energy efficient technologies, and Practice Greenhealth, a U.S.-based membership organization for hospital systems to share best practices, information, and tools for environmentally responsible patient safety and care. In these ongoing strategic collaborations, Gary is repositioning environmentally conscious health care as prudent, cost-effective, and easily within reach.
April 23 , 2015
Dr. Frederica Perera, DrPH, PhD, founder and director of the Columbia (University) Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Mailman School of Public Health, was named a recipient of a prestigious Heinz Award for the Environmen, which includes an unrestricted cash award of $250,000. Dr. Perera is being recognized for pioneering the field of molecular epidemiology and for her decades-long research to illuminate the health consequences children suffer from prenatal and childhood exposures to hazardous chemicals, for the benefit of parents, health professionals and policymakers.
June 11, 2013
Pete Myers, founder, CEO and chief scientist of Environmental Health Sciences, was awarded the $50,000 Frank Hatch "Sparkplug" Award for Enlightened Public Service by The John Merck Fund today. READ MORE
February 13, 2013
The John Merck Fund announced today the first three grants – of $1 million each – through its new multi-year research program to support translational research into developmental disabilities. READ MORE
October 17, 2011
The John Merck Fund has announced it will spend all of its assets over the next ten years to spur progress in clean energy, environmental health, development of a New England regional food system, and treatment of developmental disabilities. READ MORE
October 17, 2011
The John Merck Fund and the Growald Family Fund commissioned the Environmental Health Fund and Coming Clean to prepare a report, "Health Messengers and Coal Plant Campaigns: New Investment Opportunities and Lessons Learned from the Chemicals Reform Movement." Click here for a PDF copy of the report.