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“It’s official!” read Theresa Mueller’s long-awaited February 2011 e-mail to community activists. A veteran deputy city attorney with the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, Mueller was referring to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decision that finally allowed the Potrero power plant, the second of the two dirtiest fossil fuel power plants in the most polluted area of San Francisco, to close.

Power plants do not typically close. Although power plants are designed to operate for thirty to forty years, most power plants continue to operate long beyond their planned life spans. The last step in a long list of agency, corporate, and political decisions that made the closure possible, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision to accept the plant operator’s request to cease supplying energy was thus unusual. The seeming simplicity of the decision also belies the historic moment it represented: it was the culmination of more than a decade of work by a loose, sometimes contentious alliance of grassroots organizers, residents of the community surrounding the power plant, politicians, lawyers (including Mueller herself and professors at the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic at Golden Gate University School of Law), and law students. This is the story of that alliance, why the alliance worked, and the larger lessons of its success.


This article was first published in
45 Clearinghouse Review: Journal of Poverty Law and Policy 158
(July-August 2011)

© 2011 Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law

Reprinted in 3 Climate Change L. & Pol. eJournal (Dec. 12, 2011).