Eugene Weekly : Feature : 3.3.11

PIELC 2011:

Enviro Law Fest Hundreds of lawyers, scores of activists, one big conference

Dead King Coal? PIELC speaker takes on Big Coal

A Year In The Life The View From Lazy Point



Dead King Coal?
PIELC speaker takes on Big Coal
By Shannon Finnell

Bruce Nilles is hoping to cause 500 forced retirements ‹ of coal plants, that is.û

When Nilles gives his noon keynote speech at PIELC March 4, hell speak about the Sierra Clubs incredibly successful Beyond Coal Campaign. After years of leading Beyond Coal, in 2010 Nilles took over as the deputy conservation director of the Sierra Club, overseeing coal, oil and natural gas campaigns.û

Bruce Niles

ûIn Oregon, the Boardman Coal Plant, a pre-Clean Air Act relic, is slated to close in 2020. The Sierra Club sued Portland General Electric to hurry Boardmans shutdown. øOregon will be the first state that had coal and will be going coal free. Thats part of the excitement of being in Oregon,” Nilles says.

ûBeyond Coals experience in 2010 was a far cry from its Bush administration days, when hundreds of new coal plants were being planned and øclean coal” became a buzzword in pipedream technology. Last year the coal industry announced the retirement of 48 coal power plants, and communities abandoned or defeated plans for 38 new plants.û

Fighting the coal industry hasnt been all kittens and roses. Nilles says that working within the system showed him the power of the coal lobby. øI think with the lessons learned over the past two years of trying to enact comprehensive climate change legislation, we got to see firsthand the incredible political influence of the coal industry in Washington, D.C.,” he says.

Despite the coal industrys reliance on lobbying for new plants and lax legislation, Nilles thinks that their political behavior might work against the coal industry in the long run. øThere is the politics of them spending hundreds of millions of dollars to block progress on climate legislation,” Nilles says. øI think that really helped focus a lot of people in the importance of reducing coals influence around the country.û

Nilles has been dedicated to fighting for the environment in the legal sphere since he graduated from law school. He says that other than his legal training, the grassroots organizing skills he learned when he joined the Sierra Club have been the most helpful to his environmental work.

The Sierra Club uses community organizing for different tasks, including informing people about the hidden price of relying on coal for power. øEducation is a key piece of helping people realize that coal is an expensive energy choice,” Nilles says. øMuch of our success has been educating people on the incredible costs associated with currently relying on coal largely around the impact it has on causing asthma and huge amounts of mercury pollution that are poisoning our newborn kids.”

When the coal lobby wins a legal battle or moves forward on a plant, Nilles relies on his interactions with grassroots groups fighting coal to keep him focused and motivated. øIts incredibly inspiring because to them this is about the future of communities and the future of families,” Nilles says, øWe certainly have setbacks, but its a fight we have to win and ‹ Im convinced ‹ a fight we will win.”

PIELCs list of keynoters includes Congressman Earl Blumenauer; Lori Caramanian, counselor to the assistant secretary for water and science; farmer and anti-CAFO activist Lynn Henning; Goldman Prize winner Humberto Ros Labrada; energy expert Arjun Makhijani; author and scientist Carl Safina (see review this issue); food and environment activistûVandana Shiva; and Jeremy Wates, an advocate forûenvironmental sustainability and participatory democracy.û