April 6, 2009

Coal Plants on Hold Everywhere but S.C.

April 6, 2009 The State
Online Extra: Coal plants on hold everywhere but S.C.
By PEGGY BROWN - Guest Columnist
As coal plants are put on hold across America, Santee Cooper, our state’s public utility, edges on with plans to build a dirty and polluting coal plant in Florence County.
Just a few weeks ago, two more coal plants in other states have rescinded permits due to the cost of coal and cost to the environment. In 2008, 19 proposed coal plants were canceled, abandoned or put on hold nationally, as communities learn “cheap coal” is a myth. Only five new coal plants, totaling about 1,400 megawatts, came on line, while wind energy added a record 8,300 megawatts. Driven by the change in administration in Washington, the political will for coal is shifting. President Barack Obama, who once was a coal supporter, signed an economic stimulus package with $16.8 billion earmarked for renewable energy and efficiency programs and allowed $3.4 billion for the coal industry.
Santee Cooper is a powerful state-owned industry, rich in funding and determined to have its way. But a source of encouragement is the recent public opposition to the coal-fired plant in the Pee Dee by key state leaders. Gov. Mark Sanford, Department of Natural Resources Director John Frampton, Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela and DHEC Board members Edwin Cooper and Michael David Mitchell have publicly spoken, written and voted against the coal plant. More leaders and legislators throughout the state are needed to join in the opposition — while looking to the future for economic recovery, by investing in efficiency and renewable forms of energy, such as wind, solar and biofuels. Study after study shows that we can mend our local economies and put our people back to work with alternative power choices. Efficiency alone would boost our local economy by putting people to work retrofitting homes and businesses.
Coal is dirty and not cheap. Santee Cooper's environmental impact study for the proposed coal-fired plant in Florence County acknowledges that despite the utility's best efforts, toxic pollutants will end up in the local air and water and eventually in our lungs and bodies. The coal plant will generate an enormous amount of fly ash and a host of heavy metal emissions that will cause more children of the Pee Dee to suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases. In Florence County, more than 3,000 children already suffer from this debilitating condition.
All of our local watercourses, rivers, creeks and ponds already contain such elevated levels of mercury that the state warns against eating the fish from them. The Centers for Disease Control has found that roughly 10 percent of American women carry mercury concentrations at levels considered to put a fetus at risk of neurological damage.
As NASA global warming scientist Jim Hansen, one of the coal industry's most ardent critics, says, "Coal is exceedingly dirty stuff. The best place for it is in the ground."
Ms. Brown is the co-director of natural resources for the League of Women Voters of South Carolina.

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