On Monday, April 7, I represented the Canary Coalition at the Haywood County Commissioner’s meeting, in offering them a resolution in support of the Clean Smokestacks Plan prepared by the NC Clean Air Coalition. This resolution urges our state lawmakers to pass legislation that would bring North Carolina’s fourteen coal-fired power plants up to the same standards currently mandated by federal law for all newly constructed coal-fired power plants. This resolution was adopted unanimously by the Jackson County Commissioners and is currently being considered in Macon, Swain, Transylvania and Henderson County. It is our plan to eventually offer this resolution to all local officials statewide in order to display the depth of mainstream public resolve on this issue. Every indication is that the public wants and expects their state government to act swiftly and comprehensively to do its part in bringing clean air back to the mountains and cities of North Carolina. There is a visible groundswell appearing.
However, the Haywood Commissioners chose not to adopt the resolution at this time. I don’t think it’s because they don’t believe we have an air quality problem. I think they chose not to act because they were exposed to confusing information delivered by an industry spokesperson who should know better. Throughout the campaign for clean smokestacks legislation, members of the NC Clean Air Coalition have been careful not to try to villainize the power industry. That is not the purpose of our actions. Our purpose is to stop the pollution and bring back clean air.
But, at Monday’s commissioner’s meeting, this industry spokesperson made a series of unsubstantiated comments that have to be answered. In fact, if the commissioners will examine her statements thoroughly, I believe they’ll find that they contained nothing of substance whatsoever. There was no data offered. No scientific studies. The health issues were not addressed. No cost estimates or hard figures to counter those offered in our plan. Her statement was simply a series of vague references apparently designed to frighten the commissioners away from endorsing the Clean Smokestacks Plan. She claimed that the Plan called for shutting down power plants. She said that the standards were more “extreme” than existed anywhere in the country. She blamed environmentalists for the current energy problems in California and warned that if this Plan was adopted we were asking for the same type of problems in North Carolina.
To set the record straight:The Clean Smokestacks Plan acknowledges, in its first paragraph, that coal-fired power plants are an essential part of our energy supply and will be for many years to come. There is no reference to shutting down any of these plants in the foreseeable future. Some day, when the technology advances, alternatives may arise that will replace coal. That day has not arrived. That is precisely why it is so essential that we use current available technology to burn the coal as cleanly as possible. The health of our children is at stake.
The “extreme” standards that are recommended in the Clean Smokestacks Plan are the same standards mandated by federal law for all new coal-fired power plants that come on line nation wide. These standards can be achieved cost-effectively using proven, existing technology. An 80% reduction in nitrogen-oxide emissions is the threshhold that must be achieved to significantly impact the production of ground-level ozone, the major cause of the increase in asthma attacks among children between the ages of 1 and 14. If wanting to reduce ozone exposure to my children labels me as an extremist, so be it.
The California “energy crunch”, as any Californian can tell you, is a result of the deregulation of the power industry, a crisis brought on by the utility companies themselves who lobbied vigorously for this change. There is no shortage of generating capacity in and around California. It is the bureacratic nightmare of deregulation combined with greed that caused the skyrocketing energy prices and unavailability of power to that state. No demands made by environmentalists had anything to do with it. Environmental organizations frequently call for conservation to be the backbone of any energy policy. If this were adopted universally it would certainly not result in an energy shortage.
At the meeting on Monday I urged the Haywood commissioners to scrutinize the Clean Smokestacks Plan and its carefully referenced information. This plan was meticulously researched and is grounded firmly in reality. And, at the same time, I urged them to equally scrutinize the information of those who would challenge it. Again, I would urge them to do this, and to revisit the resolution that was offered to them. They have an opportunity to add to a building momentum that can greatly improve air quality for the people who elected them to public office. The Clean Smokestacks Plan has mainstream public support inside and outside the NC General Assembly. It deserves the support of your commissioners, as well.
Avram FriedmanDirector of the Canary Coalition