Friday, November 9, 2007

News Coverage of DHEC Public Hearing

Charleston Post & Courier

“Meeting Held on New Coal Plant”
by Tony Bartelme
November 9, 2007

PAMPLICO — Nearly 400 people from across the area converged on this tiny town's high school gym Thursday night, but not to watch the Hannah-Pamplico Raiders play basketball.

They came to root for or against Santee Cooper's plan to build a $1 billion coal-fired power plant nearby, a plant some say is a public health threat and others say is critical to keeping the lights on for half the state's residents and industries.

Before Santee Cooper can move forward with the plant, it needs a permit from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. Last month, DHEC approved a draft permit.

Thursday night's public hearing was the only one DHEC has scheduled for this project, and the parking lot around the high school filled quickly as the sun set. Employees of Santee Cooper and two of its biggest customers, Alcoa and Nucor, arrived in a chartered bus, irking a group of environmentalists.

"That's what I call stacking the deck," said Mike King, head of Pee Dee River Watchers — a group opposed to the plant.

"I hope they're getting overtime," said Ben Gregg, executive director of the S.C. Wildlife Federation.

Moments before the hearing began, Gregg, King and other opponents held a news conference, demanding that DHEC suspend the draft permit until the agency tests people in the area for mercury contamination.

They cited a recent series by The Post and Courier that identified mercury hotspots in the state and showed how some of the worst form a triangle of mercury contamination in the area where Santee Cooper wants to build the new plant.

The newspaper also paid to test people who eat fish in this area and along the Edisto River and found that frequent fish-eaters have unusually high levels of mercury in their bodies.

"These findings raise serious questions about the impact of this plant on a human population already at risk for mercury poisoning," said Ann Stoeckman, a biology professor at Francis Marion University.

But Santee Cooper supporters far outnumbered opponents. Many pro-plant attendees wore stickers with "Pee Dee" written in green. Some were still in their utility company uniforms.
Eighty-four people signed up to comment. Many were with Santee Cooper, Alcoa, Nucor and other area industries and said a coal-fired power plant was the best way to keep rates down and jobs in America. Representatives from the state's electric co-ops also turned out in force.

Pamplico Mayor Gene Gainey presented a petition signed by 1,076 area residents who want the plant built. Santee Cooper estimates the project will create 1,400 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs at the plant if it opens as planned in 2012.

Gainey said the community has lost 3,000 mill jobs over the past several years and sees the power plant as a chance to reinvigorate the area's economy. He sees new businesses coming to the area, lured by the plant and a widened four-lane highway connecting the town with Florence and places east and south.

"I'm trying to take care of this town," Gainey said. "In my opinion, if we didn't get this plant, we'd still be stalemate just sitting down here in the country like we've been for years."
Gainey dismissed concerns over pollution, especially from poisonous mercury. "I think it's overblown." He said he's met extensively with Santee Cooper and is assured that the plant will exceed all pollution requirements.

King was the first to speak out against the plant and the first speaker to have the microphone taken away after he went over his allotted three minutes.

"The problem is mercury, and it's already here," he said, citing The Post and Courier's findings that DHEC has used its advanced blood-testing equipment to test only one member of the public for mercury. He urged DHEC to "turn the page" and deny the permit. He said he has a petition signed by 469 people against the plant.

The public can submit written comments to DHEC through Dec. 7. After that, the agency will sift through comments and possibly ask Santee Cooper to respond. Then a project engineer will decide whether to issue the final permit. But that's not likely to be the end of the debate.
"We have no illusions," said Thom Berry, DHEC spokesman. "No matter what the decision is, we figure this will end up in court."

Florence Morning News
“Power Plant Hearing Draws Crowd”
by Jamie Durant
November 9, 2007

PAMPLICO — Concerned residents and local conservation groups packed the gymnasium of Hannah-Pamplico High School on Thursday night to voice their opinions on the proposed Santee Cooper coal-burning power plant to S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control officials.

Although the people in attendance were encouraged to present their concerns about the coal plant, DHEC officials weren’t permitted to respond to any of the issues raised in the public hearing.

“We have to follow a very rigid set of rules,” DHEC spokesman Thom Berry said. “We cannot respond to questions. We can only take in comments from the public. Once the public comment period ends Dec. 7, we will then get all of those comments back in and we will respond to everyone.”

The 600-megawatt coal-fired generation facility, which would be located on a 2,709-acre tract along the Great Pee Dee River, is scheduled to become operational sometime after 2012.

Berry said there won’t be any decisions in the matter for a number of months while procedures are followed.

He also addressed the concerns about the additional mercury the proposed coal plant would add to the Great Pee Dee River, which is already under advisory regarding the mercury content of the fish caught in the river.

“That’s one of the things we always take into consideration, not just here, but (for) any plant, anywhere in the state,” Berry said. “One of the things we look at is, how does this fit in to the already existing conditions? Because our goal, and the EPA's (Environmental Protection Agency’s) goal is no detrimental loss to the quality of the environment.”

But taking the mercury content into consideration isn’t enough to appease many of the conservationists protesting the plant.

“We believe that the (Great) Pee Dee River is already heavily burdened with mercury, as a matter of fact we know it is,” Mike King, representative of the Pee Dee River Watchers, said.

“We think it is unconscionable for DHEC to already approve a draft air permit for this plant, hastily, even before the environmental impact statement is done by the (U.S.) Army Corps of Engineers.”

King and other members of the conservation groups who gathered in front of the school with signs telling the dangers of coal-based power, said a busload of Santee Cooper employees were bused to the event to tilt the balance of power in the auditorium.

“They were bused in, all the Santee Cooper employees have filled up the auditorium, courtesy of the South Carolina state taxpayers,” King said. “They are paid minions of Santee Cooper.”

Santee Cooper President and CEO Lonnie Carter denied having his employees brought to the hearing en masse. “That’s incorrect,” he said.

Santee Cooper spokeswoman Laura Varn said although there were no buses involved, Santee Cooper employees did make an effort to carpool to the event.

Moments after the comments portion of the evening opened, Carter took the stage to reassure the crowd about Santee Cooper’s commitment to providing affordable, responsible power to the Pee Dee.“

I think this is a good opportunity for Santee Cooper to come out and remind people of how seriously we take our job,” he said.

Carter said that despite the opposition to a coal-based energy source, he doesn’t foresee any problems in bringing the proposed plant to fruition.

“I don’t see any stumbling block, because this facility is being designed and built with the best control technology in the world,” he said.

Lou Green, executive vice president of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, said even with consideration of renewable resources and valiant energy efficiency efforts, there would still be a need for the proposed plant.

“We don’t think (that’s the case),” he said. “We know.”

Green said that although newer, possibly cleaner, forms of energy are being discussed, they are years away from being economical for consumers.

“We have to do something between now and the time when we can use more renewable fuels and save for energy to provide the energy that is needed,” he said.Green said the studies researching the need for the power plant often are misused by many of the groups opposing the plant.

“They are mischaracterizing the studies,” he said. “They look at some of the most optimistic numbers about how much renewable energy we can have without looking at what is practically achievable and cost effective.

“The idea that we’re going to shift immediately to renewable resources is just unrealistic. That fact that we’ve got to use more of them and be more conservative is absolutely on target. It’s just a matter of timing.”

Terry Cook, who lives along the stretch of the river where the proposed plant is to be built, said she thinks the plant could have ill effects on her health and property.

“I came to speak to try to stop this coal plant from coming to my neighborhood,” she said. “In my backyard will be a landfill and an ash pond if this plant goes in. I’ve got grandchildren. There’s a lot I want to show them — one of them is not a coal-fired power plant.”

Associated Press, Myrtle Beach Sun News
“Coal Plant Fired Up More Debate”
by Graeme Moore
November 8, 2007

It was a full house Thursday night and a lot more debate over Santee Cooper's proposed coal-fired power plant in lower Florence County.

Around 300 people showed up to Hannah-Pamplico High School's gymnasium for the public hearing held by the Department of Health and Environmental Control. Of those, more than 80 signed up to speak. Each person was given three minutes to comment on the proposal.

Before Santee Cooper can move forward, DHEC must issue what's generally referred to as an "air" permit. The regulatory body has already issued a draft permit, but must grant a final version before construction could begin.

And as the case has been, DHEC continues to hear resistance on the proposal.

"South Carolina is not a third-world country. We think we ought to have clean air, and we believe we ought to have clean water, and this proposal is not going in that direction," said Ben Gregg, executive director of the SC Wildlife Federation.

But Santee Cooper answers concerns like that by saying its facility would be one of the cleanest in the world. It promises state-of-the-art technology that would reduce potentially hazardous pollutants.

But that's not the only hurdle Santee Cooper must cross. It will also have to gain permission from the Army Corps of Engineers which is conducting an Environmental Impact Study. Some say that could take years to finish.

No comments: