Pollution statistics in Evansville are alarming--seven coal plants within 30 miles, higher levels of fine particles in the air than 90% of the country, and more toxic pollution released into the area than in any other mid-size or large U.S. city.
Poor air quality contributes to Vanderburgh County's life expectancy being lower than peer counties, as poor air quality is known to impair lung development, lead to brain damage, and cause cancer, and it is connected with autism spectrum disorder and psychiatric disorders.
Vectren, which supplies energy for the Evansville area, contributes to the problem with outdated coal-firing units at its Brown and Culley power generating stations.
Locals gathered on November 16, to confront Vectren about their ongoing use of coal and natural gas for energy production and to ask for a transition to alternatives.
“Renewables are a future we need to embrace now,” stated a speaker at the rally, referring to wind and solar power as an alternative to coal and natural gas.
Another speaker noted that although the cost of alternative energy sources is often cited as a reason to continue using coal and natural gas, “the problem is we don’t talk about the other costs,” such as medical care related to lung cancer, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other respiratory illnesses, which are all exasperated by coal-burning power plant emissions.
The speaker added that other costs include cleanups as well as the cost of life of “trees, wildlife, and the entire food chain.”
A petition asking city officials to support a sustainable energy transition plan circulated, and a small group discussed their position with Vectren CEO Carl Chapman.
While some attendees fully embraced the demonstration's tactics of information sharing, marching, meeting with Vectren's CEO, and gathering supporters for a petition, others felt confused about how to oppose corporations generating huge amounts of pollution or looked to tie this issue into a larger context.
Rock Emmert, who sported a "Free Leonard Peltier" shirt at the event, connected the event to other struggles against the state, corporations, and those in power.
Leonard Peltier, a Native American activist, has been held by the state since 1976 after a wrongful conviction with no evidence. Leonard's case exemplifies downsides of government and judicial systems, such as racism, colonialism, and repression of dissenting voices. It also calls to mind current struggles such as ongoing land defense against the Dakota Access Pipeline throughout the Midwest.
Another attendee expressed confusion about how to address environmental issues. "I don't want the government to make a bunch of regulations, because I don't even want the government to exist. I guess directly confronting a corporation is something, but I don't want them to exist either." They added that if events like this do succeed in reducing pollution, "at least that's something tangible that could make our lives better now."
In Evansville, Vectren is only one of the major corporate polluters. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) analyzes companies' contributions to human health risk and creates a Risk Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) score. Integrated Energy Technologies, Inc. has the worst score in Evansville, and Goerge Koch and Sons, LLC is close behind. Each of these companies creates pollution at a rate of nearly 1,000 times higher than the average for comparable businesses in their industries.
In addition to these heavy polluters in Evansville, the EPA's map of RSEI scores shows dozens of corporations in the tri-state area and upstream along the Ohio River that contribute to human health risk, each of which could be confronted in various ways.
Information about additional environmental, anti-state, and anti-corporation struggles can be found at sites such as It's Going Down, Earth First Journal, and Unicorn Riot.
An upcoming local event entitled "Defending Against State Tactics at Standing Rock" will highlight creative ways in which protesters have carried out direct actions to oppose destruction of the environment, life, and sacred burial grounds in the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The event will also explore ways in which protesters have defended themselves against state-inflicted violence in North Dakota and elsewhere. The event is at 6 p.m. on December 10 at PG.