A Photographer’s View of Big Coal

The River Rouge coal plant near Detroit is the perfect test case for the challenge facing anti-coal activists: On one hand, its pollution is responsible for an estimated 44 deaths, 72 heart attacks, and 700 asthma attacks. On the other, the plant provides a significant chunk of the town’s revenue, as well as decent-paying blue-collar jobs. As the Beyond Coal campaign zeroes in on its target of shutting down one-third of the nation’s coal plants by 2020, its success will depend on whether it can help communities, and workers, find alternative ways to survive.

Photographer Daniel Shea, who has spent nearly five years working on a project about the coal industry in Appalachia, documented the plant and its surroundings for Mother Jones.

At the time of its construction, in 1956, the River Rouge plant was the largest in the world.

For miles in each direction from the plant runs a vast industrial area.

 

Rhonda Anderson grew up in the neighborhood; today, she’s an organizer with the Sierra Club, which is working with the community to figure out how to replace the jobs and tax revenue provided by the plant.

Anderson remembers her father taking her to Belanger Park, adjacent to the plant. Today she takes granddaughter N’Deye Anderson-Mack.

The River Rouge, not far from the plant.

Homes in the town of River Rouge, pop. 7,903.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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