Friday, September 28, 2007

Opponents of Santee Cooper plant dominate scoping hearing

Florence, S.C. – At 5 p.m. on Thursday, September 27, dozens of concerned citizens gathered at the South Florence High School to oppose Santee Cooper's plans to build a dirty, pulverized coal plant along a fragile stretch of the Pee Dee River near Kingsburg, South Carolina. The Army Corp of Engineering then held a "scoping" meeting to determine the parameters of an Environmental Impact Statement they will issue looking at the social, environmental and economic costs of the plant, as well as alternatives to building it.

Over 150 people attended the meeting and 41 gave public comments. Of the speakers, three elected officials from the Pamplico/Johnsonville area spoke in favor, along with one member of the community. 37 spoke against. At one point, a speaker asked whether any of the staff or board members of Santee Cooper were present and if they were, to please stand. No one stood up.

The direct environmental impacts of the plant are monumental. Each year, the plant will emit 300 pounds of mercury (a neurotoxin dangerous even in small quantities) and thousands of tons of smog and soot-forming pollutants. The plant site will destroy a hundred acres of pristine wetlands and will draw millions of gallons of water from an already impaired water source.

"Santee Cooper's so-called 'cost analysis' has a number of glaring omissions," said Ann Stoeckman, Florence County resident and associate professor of biology at Francis Marion University. "When we take into account the direct human health impact of this plant – the mercury contamination of the fish we catch and eat from the Pee Dee, the asthma and respiratory illnesses caused by coal dust from trains passing through Florence and other South Carolina towns – the true costs start to skyrocket."

There is clear scientific evidence that soot and particulate matter emissions from pulverized coal plants like the one proposed by Santee Cooper put vulnerable populations at greater risk for heart and respiratory illnesses. These diseases include asthma and other respiratory illnesses, as well as cardio-vascular and pulmonary diseases.

According to Susan Corbett, South Carolina Sierra Club Conservation Chair, "Santee Cooper's own numbers show this plant will generate 7500 tons of soot forming sulfur dioxide and 900 tons of particulate matter every year. This is an area of the state with higher-than-average cancer rates. Almost 9% of our state's children suffer from asthma. How many more cancers and diseases will result from additional particulate matter being dumped in the air?"

Conservationists are challenging Santee Cooper's claim that this plant uses the "best available technology," pointing out that ultracritical coal-fired plants have lower emissions and burn more efficiently. Indeed, as Coastal Conservation League's North Coast Office Director Nancy Cave stated, "This proposed plant will be one of dirtiest plants that can be legally built today, emitting tons of CO2, SO2 and hundreds of pounds of mercury. We call on the Army Corp of Engineers to conduct a comprehensive study of the impacts of this plant to our air, water and human health and to study all alternatives including efficiency, which is the fastest, cheapest and cleanest fuel."

"We expect the EIS study to go well beyond the very narrowly-defined state and federal air and water regulations to look at the true costs and impacts of this plant," concluded John Ramsburgh, Project Director of Conservation Votes of South Carolina. "Why are we importing 2.5 million tons of dirty coal annually to feed the plant, when we can invest in our own clean, renewable resources, which will provide energy we need without poisoning our communities?"

According to the American Lung Association, there are currently nearly 3000 children in Florence County who suffer from asthma, and the state pays $150 million every year to cover asthma costs for patients under 18 years of age. Over 31,000 people in Florence County suffer from some form of cardio-vascular disease.

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