Friday, March 14, 2008

Do you need another?

Area scientists are weighing in on coal, and they are not for it. See a recent editorial in the Sun News by marine scientist Dr. Dan Abel (below); or this one from the Charlotte News & Observer by biogeochemist Dr. William Schlessiger

More reasons to say no to coal

Do we need a new coal-fired power plant in southern Florence County, as Santee Cooper asserts? Here are reasons the answer is a resounding no.

Because of the magnitude of their contribution to global warming, no more coal-fired power plants should be built. This proposed plant will annually emit about 8.6 million tons of carbon dioxide, the primary contributor to global warming. Coal-fired power plants are responsible for about 40 percent of the U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Since we have already exceeded the planet's capacity to absorb CO2, building new coal-fired power plants is irresponsible. And since it is inevitable that CO2 will soon be heavily taxed, it is also stupid. Also, significant amounts of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, are released during mining.

Global warming is the defining issue of our era and is at least as large a threat to the security of the U.S. and its citizens as nuclear terrorism is. Ironically, this plant will contribute to the sea level rise that severely threatens coastal South Carolina. Kansas recently became the first state to reject a permit for a coal-fired power plant on the
basis of CO2 emissions.

Traditional pulverized coal-fired power plants represent the dinosaurs of technology and are throwbacks to a technologically primitive era.

While the new plant will be slightly more advanced than current plants, it is but a variation on the theme.

Coal burning is a major contributor of mercury to the environment. Mercury levels in freshwater and marine fish here and in other states are high enough to trigger health warnings. Levels of the most toxic form of mercury, methylmercury, which might not harm an adult, can damage a child's developing brain, leading to deficiencies in IQ,
attention deficit and impaired motor function. Fetuses and infants are especially vulnerable. The plant will annually emit 138 pounds of mercury annually. It is morally indefensible to allow this to happen.

Burning coal produces other pollution, including high levels of toxic sulfur oxide gases; appreciable quantities of toxic heavy metals like uranium and chromium; and
oxides of nitrogen.

Sulfur oxide gases and oxides of nitrogen can contribute to smog and acid precipitation, which can damage buildings and cause pulmonary problems. Jeff Goodell, in his book "Big Coal," reports that air pollution from coal plants has killed more than 500,000 Americans in the past 20 years.

Discharge of heated water will warm the Pee Dee River. Thermal pollution is often the forgotten pollution. Discharge of heated water can cause hypoxia (low dissolved oxygen levels) that may lead to fish kills and other ecosystem damage. Nearly 30 million gallons of water will be withdrawn from, heated, and after some cooling, returned to the Pee Dee per day.

Building the plant will destroy critical habitat. About 93 acres of wetland will be

Santee Cooper does not adequately promote conservation, efficiency or green power sources.

Santee Cooper underestimates its ability to develop green energy and promote its use. Investing the $1 billion or more that the coal plant will cost into these areas can easily achieve increase in efficiency necessary to obviate the need for the plant. Santee Cooper is also reluctant to institute any meaningful conservation programs. Curbing energy waste through a combination of incentives or tiered-pricing (such as lower cost for the first 1000 kilowatt-hours and higher rates for excessive use) could result in old power plants being retired.

The human and environmental costs of mining coal have not been considered.

These are two moral issues beyond the boundaries of the state. First, while the U.S. has among the world's safest coal mines, deaths from 2000 to 2006 averaged about 30 per year. The U.S. Center for Disease Control estimates that each year 2,000 former miners die from lung diseases caused by exposure to coal mine dust.
Second, mountaintop removal, a controversial form of surface coal mining that is changing the very face of states like West Virginia and Kentucky, levels mountaintops and produces millions of tons of debris that are dumped into adjacent valleys, changing the contours and drainage patterns of thousands of square miles in the eastern U.S., spoiling an entire way of life, and contributing to flash floods that kill residents. Mountaintop-removal mining has permanently destroyed more than 1,200 miles of streams, polluted groundwater and rivers, and demolished some 400,000 acres of forest in Appalachia alone.

Building large projects like power plants and prisons as jobs programs is a poor substitute for sustainable economic development. For better and permanent jobs, invest in job training, tax incentives, green public works projects, infrastructure, and meaningful K-12 education.

Let's hope that the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put the people and environment of the state first and refuse to issue permits to Santee Cooper for this ill-conceived and immoral plant.

DAN ABEL is an associate professor of marine science at Coastal Carolina University and director of the CCU Campus and Community Sustainability Initiative.

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