Public health professionals wear green

“You’ve done more public health work than most public health professionals” is high praise coming from Russ Toal, the former Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. The fight to stop Plant Washington, for me, began out of deep concern for the health ramifications that a coal fired plant would have on the health of my community and my family.

Together with partners that include national, regional, state, and local organizations, we have seen two coal fired power plants cancelled since December (Longleaf and Ben Hill). A third project, Plant Washington, is now hobbled with new emission regulations, so that what was tenuous at best, now looks absolutely unfeasible.

Fighting coal for me, is all about public health. The health of our communities is directly tied to the quality of the air we breathe, the clean water we all want to to drink, fish that are safe to catch and eat, and the rivers and streams where we want our children to splash and swim. Not surprisingly, health organizations including the American Lung Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, American Thoracic Society and others have taken strong positions on coal and climate change.

I’ll give the Plant Washington supporters some credit. They do have some things they can point to since they announced the plant over four years ago:

  • 5 of the 9 original EMCs have withdrawn from the project
  • the former CEO of Cobb EMC, Dwight Brown, who led Power4Georgians, has 35 indictments against him for his dealings at the co-op
  • emissions standards for coal have become much more rigorous and expensive
  • demand for electricity is down
  • natural gas prices have plummeted
  • wells and rivers are stressed by drought
  • co-op owner-members across Georgia are angry about being shut out of the co-ops they own

This morning I told two county commissioners, Frank Simmons and Edward Burton, and county administrator Chris Hutchings, “Shame on you.” They have been busy toeing the line in this one family county for outdated, expensive, and unhealthy coal, while other communities have courted renewable energy based companies and hundred of jobs that will not harm their air shed or deplete stressed water supplies.

While elected officials, and business and community leaders here still cling to coal, local residents have seen a solar panel plant opened in neighboring Laurens County (approximately 400 renewable energy jobs have been announced there, and people are already at work). In two weeks, Elbert County to our north, will hold a ribbon cutting for a wind turbine plant that is already employing some of the 200 people it will tap for jobs.

In the mean time, FACE and our partners have worked tirelessly to see the proposed mercury emissions for Plant Washington drop from the original 122 lbs per year to 1.63 under the new Mercury and Air Toxins standards. Reports by the megabyte have been released about the higher power bills Washington EMC members will have to pay if the plant is built, the ready and plentiful supply of cheap electricity in our state, the risks to local wells if 16 million gallons of water per day are sucked out of the ground to feed Plant Washington, and the fact that our air shed will be placed in non-attainment, essentially putting a cap on any business locating here that would need to apply for an air permit.

I don’t know how much longer plant supporters can keep their heads in the sand because the clock is running for the developer of this no-bid project. Dean Alford is about to need a lot more money for his relic of a coal plant. Come on P4G, show us the return on this great investment you have promised us.

About Katherine Helms Cummings

By day I am an environmental and social justice advocate working from a rural perspective. Nights and weekends I am an artisan making accessories and clothing with Upcycled cashmere, fine wools, and woven textiles. My handmade items are available at The Sassy Gal http://thesassygal.org
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One Response to Public health professionals wear green

  1. Karen Bonnell says:

    Katherine,
    You and the partners who have been so committed to the goal of keeping new coal plants out of GA, protecting the public health and the environment, deserve a huge debt of gratitude from all those whose lives have been positively affected by the demise of two out of the three proposed plants. I don’t know how many lives you have saved by sparing people the heart attacks, asthma, mercury poisoning, etc., but I do know that it is a significant number and that Russ Toal was absolutely correct in praising your crusade for public health. As I read your references to clean energy projects in already in place GA, I could not help but wonder where we would be if the $1 million dollars Washington EMC wasted on Plant Washington had instead been used to fund clean, alternative energy and jobs within Washington County. Paints quite a different picture, doesn’t it?
    I’m looking for the third strike — as Plant Washington is also defeated — and they’re OUT!

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