Image: Protesters outside coal-fired power plant
Tim Sloan  /  AFP-Getty Images
Protesters on Monday stand in front of the US Capitol Power Plant to demand that it switch from coal to natural gas power.
updated 3/2/2009 6:06:36 PM ET 2009-03-02T23:06:36

Several thousand demonstrators on Monday urged Congress to pass legislation to reduce greenhouse gases, and they targeted the government's own Capitol power plant as a symbol of the problem.

An enthusiastic crowd of mostly young people marched from a park near the Capitol to the power plant several blocks away. The group chanted along the way, "We don't want the world to boil, no coal, no oil!"

Despite attempts by lawmakers to clean up the power plant in southeast Washington, it still burns coal and accounts for a third of the legislative branch's greenhouse gas emissions.

"We need to move rapidly for a clean energy future," said Charlie Garlow, of Silver Spring, Md., who was dressed as a smokestack. Asked about what he hopes the rally will accomplish, he replied, "We want to make sure a good bill gets passed, not a watered down one."

Ahjani Yepa-Sprague, an American Indian who lives in Michigan, said coal is destroying her community's way of life. "Every inland lake in Michigan is contaminated with mercury," she said. "This is the first generation in the history of our people that our children cannot eat fish given to us by the creator."

The group met about a dozen counter-demonstrators who held signs reading: "Our economy runs on coal." The counter-demonstrators argued that coal is affordable and that renewable alternatives to coal-fired power plants won't meet a growing demand for electricity.

The Capitol power plant hasn't generated electricity since 1952, but it does provide steam for heating and chilled water for cooling buildings within the Capitol complex.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city's nonvoting member of Congress, said she's been fighting against the power plant since taking office nearly two decades ago.

"It has poisoned untold numbers of people who live in the District of Columbia," she said.

Norton and others at the rally said they were encouraged by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who last week called for converting the plant entirely to natural gas in a letter to the Architect of the Capitol, which oversees the maintenance and operation of the Capitol Complex.

The protest on energy and climate comes as Washington digs out from its largest snowfall of the season. Organizers note that climate change causes more extreme weather, and they say the issue is important enough that people are willing to brave the cold.

"God has a sense of humor," said protester Rhody Streeter, of Louisville, Ky., referring to the weather.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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