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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)

Restore Power to the People

Rosemarie G. Sawdon

Virginia just approved a new $1.8 billion coal-fired power plant to be built in Wise County. The final decision was made by the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board. Who are these "wise" people who believe that our commonwealth needs yet another source of greenhouse gasses, neurotoxin mercury, plus 60 other hazardous air pollutants to contaminate our air, water and soil?

Virginia ranks near the bottom of all states in terms of energy efficiency. Could it be that the coal industry has an exaggerated influence in determining the energy source? Could it be that campaign contributions from Dominion Power, approximately a quarter million dollars, have an influence?

This proposed new plant is being touted as a clean coal plant. This is an oxymoron, as clean-coal technology does not exist, and many scientists suggest that it is unlikely in the foreseeable future. Let's also look at other factors:

Coal is never clean. In addition to the impacts to global warming, the entire cycle from mining to combustion has detrimental environmental and social impacts. These impacts cannot be addressed by capturing and sequestering global-warming pollution from coal. Coal mining communities and the miners suffer from health issues.

The miners have black lung disease, from dust containing crystalline silica, and other heath problems from inhaling toxic fumes and gases, including mercury, exposure to ultraviolet and infrared radiation, not to mention heat stroke and exhaustion.

Members of these communities suffer asthma attacks at a much higher rate than the national average, as well as premature deaths. Mercury emissions contribute to kidney damage and neurological development of infants. Coal-fired power plants account for 66 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions and 30 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions, respiratory illness leading to premature death, and contribute to acid rain and smog.

Now let's look at the natural world. Strip mining causes massive deforestation, which also contributes to global warming, as well as the destruction of natural habitat. Pollutants from sludge and other runoff from mines poisons drinking water and contaminates ground water, making it toxic to fish, plants and all living things.

Now let's look at mountaintop removal. More than 470 mountains have been leveled in Appalachia, that is 1 million acres of land in the last 10 years and more than 1,200 miles of destroyed streams, all in the pursuit of coal. This process destroys and displaces entire human communities and annihilates the most biologically diverse temperate hardwood forest habitat in the world.


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I quote Robert F. Kennedy Jr., "If the American people could see what I have seen from the air and ground during my many trips to the coalfields of Kentucky and West Virginia, leveled mountains, devastated communities, wrecked economies and ruined lives, there would be a revolution in this country." He said this is the worst environmental devastation he has ever witnessed.

Now I ask the question: Is coal clean?

This decision to build a coal-fired plant against the wishes of a majority of the citizens of the commonwealth ties in with other obnoxious decisions being made by government and industry collusion. I am referring to the proposed intermodal rail site in Elliston.

The impacts on the communities of eastern Montgomery County will be devastating. Not only will their quality of life be affected, and communities substantially altered, but this too will lead to environmental damage and greenhouse gases created by hundred of thousands of trucks traveling an already inadequate road system. The majority of the goods being transported are products manufactured in foreign countries, which is another topic to be addressed: free trade, NAFTA, CAFTA.

These types of projects, touted as necessary either for more electricity produced or economic development, are proposed to benefit corporations. And the reality is that we do not live in a democratic America, but a corporate America.

It is time citizens awaken to the fact that we do not have self-governance. Power has been given to corporations by the politicians in office who prosper and reap the benefits of this system. If we want change, we need to pressure those in political office to make decisions that benefit the majority of their constituents, or we need to vote them out of office and elect representatives who will challenge existing laws and give power to the people.

The Community Legal Defense Fund is working to assist those interested in self-governance. If you have any interest, check out the Web site Free and affordable legal services are available to community-based groups and local governments committed to true democracy.

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Sawdon, of Blacksburg, is the former chair of New River Group, Sierra Club and Treasurer of Virginia Forest Watch.

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