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WA Moms Scale New Heights in Coal Pollution Protest

July 14, 2010

VASHON ISLAND, Wash. - Four young mothers from Vashon Island are setting out on the adventure of a lifetime this week - and they're not doing it for fun. A kitchen-table conversation about their environmental concerns led them to take a stand against the TransAlta coal plant - by standing atop the state's highest peak.

They've been training for five months to climb Mount Rainier, to protest the state's refusal to shut down the power plant in Centralia. Novice climber Jennifer Williams says they want to get the governor's attention, and scaling the mountain that is most affected by the coal plant's pollution seemed like a big enough gesture.

"Mount Rainier really is an icon of our state. It's sort-of a symbol of the image that we as Washingtonians project - to the rest of the country and the rest of the world, really - about our pristine environment and all the things that go along with that."

Conservation groups have charged that the Washington Department of Ecology has reached its air and water quality agreements with TransAlta behind closed doors, and that the public's concerns about the plant have not been taken seriously. Williams says she understands the situation is complex and that the coal plant is a major employer in Centralia. She also believes the state should be doing more to find alternatives for cleaner power, as well as jobs.

"Completely shutting down the plant would eliminate 300 jobs and that is a big deal to me. But if the state can give tax breaks to TransAlta, they can also pay those workers and retrain them toward an economy of the future, instead of an economy of the past."

Williams and the other climbers say they have also researched the coal plant's pollution levels. In addition to greenhouse gases, she says the plant emits ten other toxic pollutants, including mercury.

"All of those are being deposited on the mountain every day, with the wind, the snow and the rain. They're seeping into the glaciers, which then affects the water supply for our whole region for generations to come. This is not small-time pollution."

The women embark on their "Climb Against Coal" on Thursday.

Chris Thomas/Deb Courson, Public News Service - WA