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Voter Mobilization Efforts Step Up the Pace for Clean Energy

PHOTO: A Child in Belinger Park, located between the River Rouge plant and steel mill. Credit: Ami Vitale/Panos Pictures
PHOTO: A Child in Belinger Park, located between the River Rouge plant and steel mill. Credit: Ami Vitale/Panos Pictures
November 2, 2012

FLINT, Mich. – Get out the vote efforts are underway across Michigan ahead of next week’s general election.

Faith leaders and the Michigan NAACP are mobilizing voters in Detroit, Flint and Saginaw. They want to make sure that low-income and minority voters understand all the issues, including Proposal 3. It would require the state to meet 25 percent of its energy needs with renewables such as wind and solar by 2025.

Opponents have spent millions trying to convince voters that switching to clean energy would cost too much.

But Douglas Meyers, who lives near the River Rouge coal-fired power plant, invites opponents to visit his industrialized neighborhood where people live with pollution every day.

"People don't usually see the issues unless they hit directly home. It's pretty much a problem for everybody that's out here."

Meyers' son has been on inhalers for asthma since he was seven months old, and Meyers says at least two people in his immediate family are dealing with cancer.

River Rouge officials say the plant is environmentally responsible.

Meyers and others are trying to convince voters that it's time to step up efforts to wean the state away from coal.

The Reverend David Bullock, senior pastor of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church in Highland Park, Mich., visited a highly industrialized neighborhood in Detroit as part of an NAACP study on pollution.

"There literally was a coal plant right next to a park and a lake. So you've got low-income folks, poor people, playing in the park, their children playing in the park and then their parents fishing in the lake water."

Pam Smith, project manager of Your Energy Your Power with the Michigan NAACP, says the study gave six power plants, including River Rouge, an "F" for environmental justice. She says Michigan's oldest and dirtiest plants are located in low-income and minority communities, and explains that's why the NAACP is working to educate voters.

"When we present the materials to people, they have an 'aha' moment and they get it. They can connect the dots."

The report says pollution-related illnesses cost the state of Michigan around $1 billion a year.

According to Michigan Interfaith Power and Light, the cost of delivering coal for power plants in Michigan has gone up by 71 percent, pushing rates up by 3 percent per year. Opponents say switching to clean energy would cost a lot more, but supporters point out that Proposal 3 limits rate hikes to no more than 1 percent, and they predict it would cost only 50 cents more each month.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - MI