Monday, January 14, 2008

Georgetown Flunks "Energy Campus"

Late last Fall, the Georgetown City Council voted 5-1 to decline a resolution supporting Santee Cooper's proposed coal-burner on the Great Pee Dee. Georgetown is downstream of the plant and is justifiably concerned about the environmental impact of the project, including its effect on the water quality and availability of water from the river.

Today's Georgetown Times included the following editorial on the cynically-titled "Pee Dee Energy Campus" (that is, the coal plant):

Cost of mercury pollution

Sherod Cooper, 7, caught a 7.5-pound largemouth bass near Socastee in the Intracoastal Waterway a few weeks ago. It must have been a big thrill to reel in such a catch, and his family likely enjoyed a fish dinner soon afterward.

He should have thrown the big bass back. Fish caught in mercury polluted South Carolina waters are unsafe to eat. Largemouth bass and catfish are so contaminated in some rivers that DHEC says people should not eat a single bite.

Such toxins in our region’s waters have moved DHEC to post warning signs at coastal boat landings for people not to eat fish they catch.

Yet, South Carolina is displaying a split personality over this harmful pollution.

DHEC has begun an intensive review of mercury pollution that may include a first-ever study into whether the poisonous metal is harming South Carolinians.

Santee Cooper, the state’s own electric company, is proposing to build a $1 billion coal-fired power plant near Pamplico and Kingsburg south of Florence along the Little Pee Dee River. Though it’s name is a futuristic-sounding Energy Campus, opponents say the new plant will emit a projected 138 pounds of mercury per year.

Santee Cooper has been running a series of newspaper ads hinting that the state could go dark without the new coal plant. The real fear is that the cost of power will rise.

Santee Cooper directs readers to its website where it promises to use the best available environmental control technology and generate power in an environmentally responsible way. It plans to generate 40 percent (more than four times present levels) of its energy from non-greenhouse gas emitting resources, biomass fuels, efficiency and conservation by 2020.

Grace Gifford of the Five Rivers Meeting, Religious Society of Friends, says the new Pee Dee plant does not include Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle or carbon sequestration technologies and does not represent state-of-the-art.

Mercury is a neurotoxin linked to human illnesses like birth defects, nerve disorders and heart failure. Mercury becomes toxic methyl mercury in our rivers.

One pound of mercury is enough to contaminate 500,000 fish. People and particularly children eating contaminated fish are at risk. According to a recent article in the Charleston Post and Courier, there are mercury “hot spots” that form a “Mercury Triangle” of contaminated fish around the proposed coal plant. All three rivers near the proposed site, the Little Pee Dee, the Lynches and the Great Pee Dee are contaminated with mercury according to DHEC.

“Don’t worry; be happy,” is no way think in a state that is among the leaders in infant mortality until some meaningful data is collected on the effects of accumulated mercury in the mothers of those dead babies.

Mercury is only one of the pollutants associated with burning coal. Of the 14 major industries in Florence County, seven emit between 6,900 and 4,271,543 pounds of pollutants annually, according to a toxic releases inventory on the website

Close to 600 people, many of them in the Kingsburg and Pamplico areas, have signed a petition opposing the plant. Their voices deserve to be heard before a plant is built that will extend coal-burning through this century.

Until the effects of mercury pollution on people are understood more fully, the state should not approve a project that will put more into our air and water. The human cost is too high.

No comments: