PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Peoria-area organizations met at Mt. Zion Baptist Church Thursday to celebrate grants being awarded as part of the settlement process with the owner of the E.D. Edwards coal plant in Peoria County.

Brought under the Clean Air Act in 2013, the settlement of the lawsuit provided a total of $8.6 million dollars for workforce development, healthcare-related funding, and clean energy projects. It also provides for the Edwards plant to close by the end of 2022, pending approval by regulators. 

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Respiratory Health Association (RHA), and three community partner organizations, the NAACP Peoria Branch, Illinois Peoples’ Action, Central Illinois Healthy Community  Alliance (CIHCA), and Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), announced a wide range of projects that will help the community transition as the plant prepares to retire. 

Back in September, the Sierra Club announced a proposed settlement between plant owner Vistra Energy and the plaintiffs. Approximately two months later, Vistra Energy was confirmed to retire the E.D Edwards coal plant and the Sierra Club, NRDC and RHA released a Request for Proposal to award the $8.6 million in settlement funds to local projects benefiting communities in the Peoria area.

The settlement sets aside $6.88 million for public health and environmental programs and $1.72 million for job retraining and/or retraining programs to be carried out by nonprofits and municipal agencies in the greater Peoria area. The money will be used to fund local workforce development; electric school and transit buses to replace older diesel buses; energy efficiency upgrades in low-income homes; solar panels on schools, community, and government buildings; and lung-health education and medical interventions. 

Recipients include the Peoria County Health Department, the METEC Resource Center, Tri-County Urban League, Inc., the Hollis Consolidated School District, and Art Inc.’s Romain Arts and Culture Center.

“Beginning next fall, kids at Hollis Consolidated School District will no longer breathe diesel fumes before and after school each day,” said Superintendent of Williamsfield Schools. “Students in Pekin, as well as the neighborhoods served by their new bus, will enjoy the fresh air and a quiet ride.”

The previously mentioned 2013 lawsuit alleged the local plant repeatedly violated standards and ran without an operating permit.

“We encourage Vistra and local governments to join us and make comprehensive transition plans to ensure that no workers are left behind, our local economy is given the necessary time and support to adapt and the new energy economy allows fenceline and environmental justice communities to share in the jobs and the wealth,” Tracy Fox with CIHCA said.

Funding applicants were notified of the grant decisions on Feb. 14.

“It is gratifying to see the people of Peoria and the surrounding region finally start to receive what they are due following years of litigation focused on this highly polluting coal plant,” said Executive Director Howard Learner of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which represented the Sierra Club and the RHA. “These grants will help the Peoria region get the cleaner air, cleaner water and the good jobs it deserves.”