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.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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