Monday, July 03, 2006

A Cloud over Eastern Iowa

New Jersey’s LS Power recently announced plans to build a 750 MW pulverized coal-burning power northeast of downtown Waterloo, Iowa. The proposed construction of this merchant power plant, which plans to sell most of its power out of Iowa, throws us into a debate about the future of energy generation in the Midwest and across the country.

We know what coal plants are like. Even while operating in full compliance with the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the plant will emit particulates, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and more than 100 lbs of mercury a year into the air, not to mention groundwater contamination, increasing risk of asthma, autism, cancer, and other illnesses. Iowa DNR does not monitor mercury contamination in surface water, so we will have no way of knowing the true impact until it is too late. Carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 700,000 cars a year will exacerbate global warming. And this is just one of more than 150 coal plants proposed or under construction in the United States, a veritable coal rush.

The coal industry is trying to stick us with out-dated technology before carbon regulation is enacted. They know that the cost of coal will increase and consumers will be stuck paying the bills. But we have the technology to do better. Iowa has become a leader in wind, and with our abundant natural resources biomass is a real option. We also have sustainable building techniques and energy efficient technology to reduce demand. It is time to create an energy system for the 21st century. We have to stop the coal rush or else we’ll be dependent on dirty coal for the next 50 years.

The issue is especially pressing for a community like East Waterloo, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the state. This predominantly African-American community now faces increased health care costs and infant mortality due to the proposed plant. Waterloo needs the assistance of all of Eastern Iowa at this crucial time. If the coal industry’s plans continue, all of our efforts on global warming, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and water quality will mean little. Pollution from more than 150 coal-fired power plants will see to that.

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