Cleaner, Happier, Healthier Communities: Ferndale Ramps Up the Beyond Coal Campaign

Cleaner, Happier, Healthier Communities: Ferndale Ramps Up the Beyond Coal Campaign

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A kickoff meeting for a new phase of Oakland County Beyond Coal drew a capacity crowd to the Ferndale Public Library on January 21st.

One of the best-attended environmental campaign meetings I’ve seen, it featured two of Ferndale’s own as moderator (Andrew Cissell) and keynote speaker (Craig Covey) as well as nationally-known environmental justice organizer Rhonda Anderson of Detroit, and Physicians for Social Responsibility member Stephanie Dernek of Ann Arbor. Green Corps organizer Zack Deutsch-Gross has chosen Ferndale as his temporary residence while in Michigan revving up Beyond Coal’s latest juncture.

Dr. Dernek pointed out that Physicians for Social Responsibility created a Michigan chapter primarily because of coal’s health issues here. Coal contributes to several of our leading causes of death, including cancer, stroke, heart disease, and chronic respiratory problems, and is “especially bad for babies and young developing minds,” Dernek said.

Michigan’s reliance on coal is still higher than the national average, according to the doctor, and PSR supports “the closing of coal plants and replacing coal with renewables” for “cleaner, happier, healthier communities.”

Some of Covey’s environmental roots are in the six years he spent as a Boy Scout; he’s been involved in environmental causes since his teen years, and not just coal. “Coal may be the ugliest house on the energy block but fracking is right next door,” he told us, reminding us of other threats Michigan faces, and also that environmental issues know “no boundaries like 8 Mile Road.” He urged us to “hold our politicians accountable” and pointed out that “we don’t own the earth as property. We get to use it as stewards and pass it on to the next generation.” Craig delighted attendees by calling Ferndale “the Ann Arbor of Metro Detroit, and the San Francisco of Michigan.”

Rhonda Anderson, who heads the Sierra Club Environmental Justice office in Detroit, connected the issues of pollution to the recent celebration of Martin Luther King Day as well as to present struggles for environmental justice. Moving beyond coal is a “continuation of the fight begun in the ‘60s for civil rights. Everyone has a right to clean air and clean water.”

“I did not know until seven years ago how bad things were. I had become accustomed to all that major pollution [in southwest Detroit]” which she pointed out is “a community that’s so impacted by dirty energy. What’s the solution? Clean energy.”

The crowd, 67 strong, got better acquainted in breakout sessions, brainstorming topics like grassroots organizing and attracting media attention (and with the abundance of social media, many realized that we ourselves are the media now). It was heartening to not only see the usual green suspects but those who had come to such an event for the first time, whether out of curiosity, an eagerness to connect various Ferndale commissions in common causes, or a new willingness to become directly involved. The refreshments provided by Blaze Pizza, Jimmy Johns, and Starbucks were gratefully enjoyed, and some of the crowd headed to the WAB after the hour-plus meeting ended.
Want to become involved yourself? Look for and “like” Oakland County Beyond Coal on Facebook for news of coming events or contact organizer Zack at

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