Posted by: coalfreewa | March 1, 2010

Rally in Olympia – big success

Our rally in Olympia on Saturday was a huge success! We had around 200 people show up to demand an end to coal in Washington. This despite the cold, rainy weather.

Image courtesy of the Centralia Chronicle/Holly Pederson

We started things off on the Capitol lawn. Luckily we had a tent for everyone to crowd under. We heard from Brooks Berndt, a UCC minister from Vancouver and one of our most active volunteers, Doug Howell, the Coal Free NW director, Jessie Dye of Earth Ministry, Maritess Zurbano a really great writer and small business owner who talked about her concerns over coal as an expecting mother, and finally, Andrew Rose, a grad student at UW, environmental leader, and hard-core Coal Free Washington volunteer.

Afterwards, we trooped over to one of the hearing rooms for a panel discussion, moderated by Jessie Dye and featuring presentations by Nancy Hirsch of the NW Energy Coalition and Doug Howell.

Things got interesting during the Q&A session. There were about a dozen people from the Boilermakers Local, one of the unions represented at the plant, who asked some really good questions about the future of their jobs. It’s obviously something everyone is concerned about, and the discussion could have gotten ugly, but everyone remained respectful and there was a very lively, back-and-forth conversation about Centralia, green jobs and what should be done to make sure that we meet our climate goals while also protecting jobs.

And even after the Q&A ended, the discussion continued, with clumps of Sierra Club activists and union members talking for a good hour, until we finally had to clear the room.

Hopefully I’ll soon have some video to post. In the meantime, here are a few pictures, taken by Roger Cole, one of our great volunteers:

Four volunteers holding signs on the stage during our wet rally!

Brooks getting the crowd inspired.


This week, the Senate released its budget package proposal. Included in the proposal was a provision to eliminate TransAlta’s $10 million tax break. Yeah, you heard that right – the state’s biggest polluter gets a $10 million tax break!

But hopefully not for long. The Senate could vote on this proposal as early as this weekend. Maybe they’ll vote while we’re all down their for our Day of Action!

You can read more about the provision, and all the sticky political implications here, here, and here.

Posted by: coalfreewa | February 22, 2010

Coal Free Washington Day of Action

Join us in Olympia on Saturday, February 27th, for a Day of Action. We’ll be delivering the thousands of postcards we’ve collected to the governor. The event kicks off at noon with a short rally in front of the capital, followed by a panel discussion inside.

This is a great opportunity to make a big show of support for a coal-free Washington. Make your voice heard!

WHAT: Rally for a Coal-Free Washington

WHEN: Saturday February 27, 2010. Noon.

WHERE: Washington State Capitol, Olympia (map)

Sign up here!

Posted by: coalfreewa | January 21, 2010

Closing Coal’s Tax Loophole

The Dirt on Coal

Closing Coal’s Tax Loophole

Posted by Jennifer Langston

01/20/2010 03:45 PM
If it’s good for gold bullion, why not coal?

Last week, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire came out crusading for closing tax loopholes to to shore up the state’s crumbling budget. Here are some things that made her list: sellers of gold bullion, cattle operations, free-riding banks, out-of-state businesses, chili canners masquerading as meat processors and corporate board members collecting big checks.

Here’s one that didn’t: a $4 million annual sales tax exemption on out-of-state coal burned at TransAlta’s Centralia power plant, Washington’s largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s a curious omission, especially from a governor who talks so often and eloquently about clean energy as a solution to the state’s economic woes.

With a $2.6 billion budget shortfall (following a year when services were already slashed), you might also assume the governor would claw back every dollar possible to preserve things that voters value, like schools and transportation solutions. On this front, though, the Legislature has had to take the lead with SB6573, which would eliminate the sales tax exemption for coal, a dirty source of energy that’s truly outlived its usefulness.

Prime sponsor Sen. Eric Oemig (D-Kirkland) says ending the coal subsidy is a “no brainer” in this economic climate:

Why would you help buy dirty coal when you’re actually trying to tackle greenhouse gas emissions and pollution generally and support renewables like wind and solar and geothermal? Why would you give away $4 million with no strings attached? $4 million buys a lot of lunches for school kids or health care for the elderly.

There’s also some interesting history behind the tax exemption that bears some scrutiny, especially since Centralia is the only coal-burning power plant in Washington — and therefore the only one that enjoys the subsidy.

In the late 1990s, the Legislature essentially agreed not to collect sales tax on the coal Centralia burns in order to help offset the considerable cost of installing new equipment to reduce the plant’s pollution. But the subsidy was originally contingent upon the plant getting at least 70 percent of its coal from the local mine next door, an incentive to preserve some of the best blue-collar jobs in Lewis County.*

The requirement to buy local coal was dropped along the way. So when Centralia’s new owners (the Canadian company TransAlta Corp.) closed the mine in 2006, dealing a huge blow to a struggling local economy, the tax break remained in place. Now Washington is subsidizing the purchase of millions of tons of out-of-state coal from Wyoming and Montana. (And does a company that earned $3.1 billion in revenue last year seriously need the subsidy?)

Legislation introduced last year to eliminate the coal tax exemption would have directed some of the money to re-training any displaced workers at Centralia, which would be a fair use for it. (The legislation didn’t pass.) This year’s bill would simply return the money to the general fund, though Oemig says he’s “open to” ideas about how the money might be directed.

Closing the tax loophole on coal is an obvious opportunity to align the state’s tax policy with its climate and energy goals. Plus, I can personally think of lots of things I’d rather see the state invest in, whether it’s retraining workers for green-collar jobs, supporting renewable energy, or offering my kid a good education at a public school. How about you? Thoughts on how we could better spend $4 million in a bleak budget year?

Posted by: coalfreewa | January 21, 2010

This just in: We want a coal-free state

This morning, the Centralia Chronicle posted a poll asking readers if they support the Sierra Club’s campaign to make Washington coal-free. You can take the poll here. Well, voters made their voices heard loud and clear – at last count, the results were over 1100-300 in support of a coal-free state:

We also got a sweet assist on this from The Stranger’s Executive Editor Dan Savage, who posted about this poll this morning:

“The Centralia Chronicle is perhaps the most conservative of all newspapers in the state,” writes Slog commenter I Got Nothin’. “For example, endorsing I-1033—I believe the only newspaper in the state to do so. They are currently running a poll as to whether the TransAlta coal-powered steam plant (the largest polluter in the state, by far) should be shut down. Unsurprisingly it’s running in the high 90% to keep it open and I’d like to fuck with them. If we could get Slog readers to go and vote to close down TransAlta we can reverse the poll results in no time.”

Presumably Centralia Chronicle polls—like Slog polls—are scientifically sound and legally binding. Go and vote “yes,” Sloggers.

UDATE: Mission accomplished, Sloggers.

Thanks, Stranger!

Now go vote!

Posted by: coalfreewa | January 21, 2010

Join the movement for a coal-free Washington

Welcome to our brand-new blog. This is the blog of the Sierra Club’s campaign to make Washington the first coal-free state in the nation. Check back in for regular updates.