U.S. PIRG | Sierra Club | BREDL


July 25, 2006

Rose Garr, U.S. PIRG (202) 546-9707
Michael Town, Sierra Club, Virginia Chapter (804) 225-9113
Mark Barker, BREDL (540) 342-5580

"Coal Rush" Threatens Environment and Energy Security
Proposed Plant in SW Virginia Among 150 Plants Proposed Nationwide; Plants Would Boost Global Warming Pollution by 10 Percent and Coal Consumption by 30 Percent

Richmond, VA-Energy companies are planning to build over 150 coal-fired power plants in locations across the United States, including at least one in Virginia, according to a report released today by U.S. PIRG. Far from enhancing America's energy security, the wave of proposed plants - most of them powered by dirty, last-generation technologies - would dramatically increase global warming emissions and pose energy security and economic problems.

"We're lining up for a sprint in the wrong direction on US energy policy," said Rose Garr, mid-Atlantic field organizer for U.S. PIRG. "Expanding our dependence on coal will only worsen coal's impact on global warming emissions and intensify the other environmental impacts and economic risks from coal."

"Instead of more of the same energy sources that have given us global warming and 1,000 premature deaths annually from air pollution in Virginia, we have to move in a new direction on energy policy," said Michael Town, director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.

"New coal plants are not welcome in Southwest Virginia," said Mark Barker, of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, referring to the proposed Dominion plant in Wise County. "We're already suffering health impacts from the air pollution of existing plants, and new plants would only exacerbate the toll on our health - not to mention the impacts of mountain top mining on Appalachia."

The U.S. PIRG analysis, based on information from the U.S. Department of Energy and published reports, documented the potential impacts of completing the 150 plants proposed across the U.S. Among the impacts would be the following:

A 10 percent increase in U.S. global warming emissions. This increase would occur amid urgent scientific warnings about the dangers posed by global warming and growing consensus that, to avoid the worst consequences, America and the world must achieve steep cuts in global warming emissions by the middle of this century.

A 30 percent increase in U.S. coal demand. With current mines only expected to meet coal demand for another 18 years, a massive increase in coal power would require the opening of new mines and expanded infrastructure for delivering that coal to power plants. The increase in coal demand would exacerbate the environmental devastation caused by coal mining, which has already denuded more than 7 percent of Appalachian forests, buried 1,200 miles of streams in fill, and resulted in the release of hundreds of millions of pounds of toxic chemicals.

$137 billion invested in dirty, outdated coal-burning technology. Despite recent hype about the promise of "clean coal" - including the prospect of capturing and storing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants underground - only 16 percent of the proposed plants nationwide would use coal gasification technology, and none would incorporate carbon capture and storage. The rest would use older technologies that are already responsible for massive global warming emissions and the release of large quantities of pollutants responsible for human health problems.

Lost opportunity for investment in cleaner technologies. Investing the $137 billion slated for new coal-fired power plants into cleaner alternatives would yield economic and energy security benefits for the United States. If invested in energy efficiency, those funds could reduce U.S. electricity demand by about 19 percent in 2025 vs. business as usual - obviating the need for the all of the coal plants on the drawing board. If invested in wind energy, the United States could develop 110 gigawatts of the best wind energy locations in the western U.S., which could produce electricity at an overall cost comparable to coal.

Economic risks for ratepayers, utilities and generators. Investors could be liable for the cost of complying with any new rules to limit global warming emissions from power plants rules that are increasingly likely as evidence mounts of the potential environmental and economic impacts of global warming.

The coalition of environmental and public health groups releasing the report calls for several steps to stem the "coal rush." First, our leaders should join Idaho officials in establishing a moratorium on new coal plants in Virginia, in order to evaluate the environmental and economic impacts. Second, our leaders should establish a cap on carbon dioxide pollution, to be lowered over time; third, public money should not be spent on coal technology; and finally, our leaders should dramatically expand programs to develop energy efficiency and renewable energy resources.

"America could substantially reduce its global warming pollution using existing technology to improve energy efficiency and increase the use of clean, renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass," said Garr. "What's more, these steps would be good for America's economy; creating jobs and improving productivity. But not if we stake our energy future on coal."

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U.S. PIRG is a non-profit, nonpartisan public interest advocacy group that works to protect the environment, defend the rights of consumers, and foster an open, more responsive democracy.

BREDL Comments to Press

Hi, My name is Mark Barker. I am a Vice President of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League a.k.a. BREDL. BREDL is a regional, community-based, non-profit environmental organization. Also, I represent BREDL as a member of the Greater Roanoke Valley Asthma and Air Quality Coalition. The Greater Roanoke Valley Asthma and Air Quality Coalition mission is to improve air quality and respiratory health for the Greater Roanoke Valley through education and partnerships with other organizations with similar goals.

We are concerned about the health impacts in Virginia from the emissions of coal-fired power plants. These are significant health impacts which have been well-documented over the years. One report done in 2000 by Abt Associates concluded that fine particulate matter pollution from coal-fired power plants contributes to over 27,000 asthma attacks annually in Virginia and 1,200 premature deaths each year in Virginia. Asthma prevalance (adults who have ever been told they have asthma) in Virginia has risen since 2000, from 10.5 percent to 14.2 percent in 2005. That 14.2 percent is above the nationwide prevalance of 12.6 percent.

As you know, the fight to clean up existing plants has not been easy. The utility industry does not have a good track record when it comes to pollution reduction. Over the years, they have fought tooth and nail so they wouldn't have to install pollution controls on their antiquated coal fired power plants. Citizens, environmental and health groups and - in some cases - affected states are pushing the industry to clean up some plants, but there is a long way to go just to clean up the plants we currently have in operation.

Thus, we have concerns with adding new plants. A new batch of coal-fired power plants is not going to improve things. Sure, compared to the old power plants, the emissions will be less from the proposed plant in Wise County. However, it will still emit the same ole toxins. Toxins that can trigger asthma attacks - can cause cancer, neurological disorders, premature deaths and so forth. A lot of these pollutants will not only be a problem in the nearby communities, but can be carried hundreds of miles. We will get some of that pollution here in the Roanoke Valley.

We have enjoyed a reduction in ozone pollution in the Roanoke Valley during recent years; we don't need to be reversing this positive trend by inviting more air pollution. After all, these new coal fired power plants - like the proposed one in Wise County - will not be replacing the "dirtier" plants that have been around for several decades. They will be adding to the pollution. The proposed Wise County plant will utilize a process which is labeled as "clean coal" technology. So-called "Clean Coal" is just repackaging an old product. A product that we shouldn't buy. In addition to the emissions from the actual coal-fired power plant, there are emissions and environmental destruction along the way. The coal mining extraction practices - such as mountaintop removal - can be devastating to the physical environment destroying forests and streams. At coal preparation plants - such as the Consolidated Coal Co. facility in Buchanan County - more toxins are released into the air. These prep plants release CO, particulates, NOx, and a lot of VOCs. Toxic releases also include arsenic, beryllium, mercury, lead, uranium and in larger amounts benzene, cyanide and xylene.

In the Roanoke Valley, we still have work to do to reduce the particulate pollution. Two fine particulate monitors in the Roanoke Valley exceeded the EPA annual health standard during 2005. Fine Particulate Matter is associated with serious health effects including increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits for people with heart and lung disease, aggravated asthma, increases in respiratory symptoms like coughing and difficult or painful breathing, chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function, and premature death.

Finally, we need to be serious about reversing global warming and permitting over 150 new coal-fired power plants is definitely not the way to do this. Coal fired power plants are like fire breathing dragons that have scorched the planet. We need something better in the 21st Century.

Thank you.