Mt. Tom will discontinue coal operations

HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – The owner of the Mt. Tom Coal Power Plant has announced that they will discontinue coal operations due to the declining economics.

According to Carol Churchill, the Communications Manager for GDF SUEZ, 28 employees were told Monday morning that the company made the decision.

Employees will be offered severance. Churchill said encourage them to consider applying for other positions within GDF SUEZ Energy North America.

The power plant will be closing in the fall.

Statement from ¡Action for a Healthy Holyoke! Re: Closing of Mt. Tom:

One major step, several more to go

“The asthma rate in Holyoke is twice the state average and my wife suffers from terrible asthma herself,” said Carlos Rodriguez a community leader in Action for a Healthy Holyoke, “so, while we are very glad to know our air will be cleaner, responsible retirement also means working with our community and the workers for clean up and transition.”

“I am pleased, especially since we have heard some news that there may be solar power built there. I am also nervous about the contamination in the ground,” said Carmelo Diaz, a community leader in Action for a Healthy Holyoke, “back in Puerto Rico I’ve seen a coal plant that closed without cleaning up its mess.”

“I am concerned to hear from the company what the timeline for a clean up will be and what their vision of the future will be. When I was at the plant, I was so overwhelmed by the immensity of the steel and the whole plant, not to mention the ash that is underground,” said Bob Griffin, a member of Action for a Healthy Holyoke and resident of Holyoke, “The clean-up should not be taken lightly. So if the announcement from GDF-Suez is just that they are closing down, in terms of not burning coal, we’re waiting to hear what their next steps will be.”

“This is a relief for families who have suffered from the impacts of dirty air from this plant for far too long. It’s a testament to the power of community organizing and a strong step on Massachusetts’ path to be a clean energy leader. Now, we will continue to work with Governor Patrick and GDF-Suez to ensure the company treats their workers with dignity and respect, honors their union contract and supports the community in the transition.” Sierra Club Team Leader Kim Finch.

Jane Andresen, a member of Action for a Healthy Holyoke, says, “although this is fantastic news for our community and our environment, I am very interested in hearing how GDF-Suez plans to deal with the site clean-up and, in particular, the tons of coal ash that have been dumped on the site over the years. It is estimated that coal ash is responsible for 50% of the pollution in U.S. waterways. Unless it is removed, the coal ash on the Mt. Tom site will continue to find its way into our river.

“Now begins the real work of re-inventing Holyoke,” chimed in Claire Miller, MA State Director with Toxics Action Center, “working side by side with communities like Holyoke across New England- its clear to me that a closure announcement is only the beginning. Thank goodness last week Holyoke issued the request for proposals to study re-use options.”

In 2012, at the request of AHH!, the city of Holyoke appointed a Community Advisory Group to plan ahead for such a situation. This winter, the city of Holyoke was allocated resources by the state of Massachusetts to conduct a redevelopment study of the coal burning power plant site.

“The residents of the Pioneer Valley will be able to breathe easier once this out-dated coal plant closes its doors for good,” said Shanna Cleveland, Senior Attorney at Conservation Law Foundation and member of AHH!, “The Mt. Tom coal plant had a history of air and water pollution violations, and the closure of this plant opens the door for a cleaner future for Holyoke and the surrounding areas.”

The group says it’s critical that the company works with employees and their unions on a fair and just transition plan that honors the workers’ contract and treats them with dignity and respect. Right now there are 28 employees at the Mt. Tom Coal plant.

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Action for a Healthy Holyoke (AHH) which includes Neighbor to Neighbor, Nuestras Raices, Toxics Action Center, Sierra Club, Conservation Law Foundation, Holyoke Food and Fitness Policy Council, Region 1 of the Massachusetts Nurses’ Association, Holyoke Municipal Employees of SEIU 888, United Auto Workers 2322, Arise for Social Justice, and Western Massachusetts Jobs with Justice.

 Background: The Mt. Tom coal plant, which is located on the Connecticut River in ward 7 in Holyoke has been in operation since 1960. The plant is owned by GDF-Suez, the world’s largest utility, headquartered in Paris, France.

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