Editor’s note: This opinion piece was written by former Caledonia resident Bill Pringle in response to Attorney General Brad Schimel’s letter to the editor about why the state is filing a lawsuit against the EPA. 

There is a growing debate about whether the EPA’s ruling on carbon emissions is valid or unnecessary. I will try to shed light on this matter, not from a political point of view but as a resident affected by an industry that contributes to a high output of carbon emissions. My goal is to get people to not listen to their favorite local politician, but to think about how one industry can affect a local community.

In December 2006, my wife and I purchased our first home. It was located in a rural area in Caledonia under two miles from the Oak Creek Power Plant owned by We Energies. When my wife and I purchased the home we had two children, so we purchased the home with the intent to grow our family in that area. While we were going through the closing process we were unaware that We Energies had already taken steps to greatly expand the power plant. So my wife and I moved into our new home and then just a few short months later we began to see the massive construction project take place.

The new generating facility was partly working By 2009. Along with the new operations that were taking place, my family and I began to feel the health effects of the increased amount of coal being burned. We had another child in 2009 and a fourth child in 2012. Everyone in our home began to feel the effects of living near the coal plant, experiencing asthma symptoms, constant sneezing, burning eyes, dry raspy throat, reflux and cardiac arrhythmias.

As the symptoms increased, my suspicions increased about why we were getting more sick. After calling We Energies and complaining several times over two years, my suspicions came true when in March of 2014 a test result came back positive for raw coal dust being found in the snow of my yard. I then hired two other testing companies to confirm the findings. The first company confirmed that coal did exist inside my home and the second company also confirmed that coal existed through an ESM test which is fairly conclusive. The company stated “there is a positive identification of coal” and also “fused particles typical of fly ash were present in both samples” Fly ash being a byproduct of coal combustion was a shock. Actually both coal and fly ash were both a surprise since We Energies through their testing denied the existence of either. We would later be forced to leave our home due to the increase of severe health problems in all of us, they became so bad I was fearful one of us would die. So in October 2014 we moved.

So how does this fit with the Obama Clean Air Plan? Although I did not vote for President Obama, and do not support his policies on some of his social issues I do believe something has to be done on a local level to repair what is being done by the coal industry. For the last two years I have found significant evidence for residents being harmed living in a close proximity to the coal-fired power plant.

How does the coal plant work?

First coal is mined and loaded into train cars and hauled cross-country. In the case of We Energies the coal cars remain uncovered as they travel cross-country losing coal particulates in the air town to town. Then they are parked on the rail road tracks in Caledonia uncovered, while the wind is free to blow more particulates. Next the coal is unloaded and is dumped on to the top of a massive pile via conveyor and stored outside, uncovered.  Again the wind blows loose particulates into surrounding neighborhoods. From the storage pile the coal is then pulverized and burning creating the electricity. When the coal is burned it creates an enormous amount of carbon monoxide along with a dozen other harmful left overs such as mercury, arsenic and molybdenum. Then you have to count the 600 tons of fly ash in needed of disposal daily. Starting to sound nice?

As a concerned resident I started going door to door asking the question: “Are you or is anyone in your house sick?” Shockingly as I went to around 200 homes or so I found that 1 out of 3 residents were sick with similar problems we had. I also was shocked to hear all the stories of cancer in the area. I realized that our community was definitely being affected by the power plant.

So what do we do?

I have seen many quotes, articles and commercials by local and state politicians opposing any new clean power plan. Whether or not they believe what I say, I know firsthand, at least locally, that there is a problem.

I don’t understand how these politicians can be so careless with the health of the people that vote for them. Aside from increased burning of coal locally, there is a substantial amount of particulate matter that is airborne along with a large amount of other chemicals such as Ammonia, Boron, Chromium, Arsenic etc.

So as politicians such as Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), Attorney General Brad Schimel and State Rep. Tom Weatherston (R-Caledonia) chose to take the side other the companies causing these issues. I ask you to think about your community and what you can do as an individual to help impact your community. I ask you to start thinking about getting involved by being educated on what’s really going on and what’s really affecting your well-being.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.