Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE
I could not understand why some intelligent people do not oppose the proposed building of 17 Dirty Coal Plants in Texas. They are not impressed with any of the information I provided in the last 5 blog posts.
Finally, it dawned on me. The issue is complex. We have been told Texas needs energy to grow and be economically progressive. Coal is abundant since we are strip mining the Powder Basin in Wyoming. The pulverized coal is the dirtiest coal available with high sulfur and mercury content. This is to say nothing about the controversy regarding strip mining and the effect that it has on the topography of the land.
Natural gas has gone up in price. We want to decrease our dependence on foreign oil. Coal is cheap. We have done little to support and subsidize renewable energy such as solar and wind. Why not? These are clean energy sources that we have in abundance. I believe an intensive effort by our country could go far to harness these potential energy source. Solar and wind could provide cheap electricity while stimulating the growth of the economy.
I had an epiphany as I sat and listened to the arguments in support of The proposed Dirty Coal Plants. There is an obvious disconnect between what seems logical to me and what I have heard.
The decisions for building these Dirty Coal Plants are in the hands of businessmen, lawyers, and politicians. Lawyers, politicians and businessmen should not make medical decisions. They readily admit they do not understand medicine. However when the EPA makes a rule that is the “law” and the lawyers’ and politicians’ job is to interpret and enforce the law even if the law is wrong or inadequate.
I am for free enterprise and a market driven economy. Texas is a bell weather state that has grown and been energized by free enterprise and the free market. I am proud of it.
However, the free market should not disregard the health of our citizens, our water supply, and our food chain. This is the corporate community responsibility that we as a state and as a nation must demand.
TXU considered that they received a mandate from Governor Perry to provide increased electricity to the state for its expected growth in demand and the growth of the state in the future.
TXU set out to answer that demand and applied for 9 coal plants in rural Texas. The plants were designed to comply with EPA rules. These Dirty Coal Plants supposedly comply with EPA rules.
One should ask two important questions. Are the EPA rules stringent enough for what we know about the pollutants emitted by the Dirty Coal Plants? Is TXU building the cleanest possible coal plants for the state of Texas?
I understand the arguments of TXU and the proponents of the Dirty Coal Plants. TXU’s goal is to provide the cheapest electricity to Texas at the lowest price. In order to do this they have to build Dirty Coal Plants because natural gas is expensive, and strip mined coal from the Powder Basin in Wyoming is cheap. The old technology of these Dirty Coal Plants makes them easy to build and will provide a good return on TXU’s investment. TXU claims to be a good neighbors and would not hurt us.
TXU claims that the EPA and the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) are the scientists and make the rules. They are protecting us from TXU harming us. TXU is simply complying with the rules that the experts made. These rules are the law. The state and local government have to comply with the law. The statement eliminates a lot of thinking on the part of the citizens of the state. In short it says “just trust us”.
We have seen our administration, our government officials and government agencies make mistakes recently. These mistakes were made even though information was available to avoid the mistakes. The information was either not communicated or ignored.
We have been informed that the FBI and CIA have not communicated with one another in the past. Both agencies had the composite information about 9/11. The 9/11 terrorist attack could have been stopped if these two agency were communicating effectively. The lack of communication spans the watch of at least two federal administrations.
CIA intelligence about Iraq was either incorrect or defective. The new CIA had no agents on the ground. Why did we not find Weapons of Mass Destruction? If Iraq had them, where did they send them? We absolutely know they had weapons of mass destructions during the Gulf War. We bombed a munitions depot without knowing it. The result was we poisoned 100,000 of our own soldiers and countless Iraqis and Kuwaitis’ without knowing it until the Gulf War Syndrome was described by Dr. Robert Haley of University of Texas Southwestern Medical School a few years ago.
Why did our agencies not understand the geopolitical nature of post war Iraq to predict the recent chaotic events? I submit we did know but they were not communicated to the decision makers or the decision makers did not listen. How could our military make so many mistakes and our diplomats be so inefficient?
The Katrina disaster is another example of lack of communication or inefficiencies of our government agencies. Why was the Corp of Engineers was not listened to when they told the Federal Government how badly the levies needed repair or rebuilding? Why was FEMA not able manage and administer the orderly repair of the flood’s damage and the resettlement of displaced people. Some of those people still do not have adequate temporary housing.
How can one say the EPA rules are correct when on close reading they not only are contradictory but they continually delay the reduction in coal plant emissions with each subsequent set of rules since 2000? These changes in rules result in less stringent air quality controls. Are the emissions getting better for our health? They reduction in control of emission is occurring despite their own commissioned outsourced reports declaring the dangers of present control levels.
It unfortunate that the EPA rules contradict themselves. In 2000, the National Academy of Science was commissioned by the EPA to figure out the minimum toxic dosage of mercury. Their answer was .1 microgram /Kg per day. Therefore a 22 lb child with a growing brain exposed to 1 microgram per day would be receiving a toxic dose of mercury. An average fetus weighs zero to eight lbs. The placenta concentrates mercury from the mother and transports large doses to the fetus. Population studies estimate that 7% of our new borns are affect with abnormal brain development resulting in autism, attention deficit syndrome and degrees of mental retardation. The incidence is highest in mercury polluted areas. Seventy percent (70)%) of our mercury contamination comes from our presently operating Dirty Coal Plants. The human effects of mercury contamination are clearly dose response related. Some individuals are more sensitive to lower doses than others. There should be little to no mercury in the environment.
TXU claims these Dirty Coal Plants reduce mercury output from an average of 800 lbs per year for the existing Coal Plants to 160 lbs per year per coal plant for the new coal plant. TXU is very proud of this 80% reduction and so it seems is the Texas Commission for Environment Quality. TCEQ has granted TXU provisional permit pending the result of the fast tracked public hearings.
There are two problems. The first problem is 160 lbs of mercury converts to 72,480,000,000 micrograms of mercury emitted per new Dirty Coal Plant per Year. The 2000 report said you only need .1 microgram per kg per day of mercury for it to be toxic. The second problem is mercury does not go away. Therefore, year after year this dose is additive.
I also discovered reading the EPA’s literature that one of the by products of burning Powder Basin Coal is Uranium 238. The Uranium 238 is a great source for enriching nuclear fuel. The amount of Uranium by product is more than the minimum amount allowed for a nuclear reactor by the EPA. Yet the EPA does not require measurement of uranium as a by product by these new Dirty Coal Plants. What we do not know will not hurt us. Is that correct? I would think TXU is certain not to measure uranium in the sludge if it is not required to.
There are lots of defects in the EPA rules. Is it possible the rules are inadequate? I think it is likely. In order to clear all this up before disaster strikes again we need to slow the fast track permitting process. If we absolutely need to burn coal for energy, gasification plants are need. Coal Gasification Plants are not experimental as TXU claims. Coal gasification plants can reduce mercury emission by 94% of what the present proposed plants can.
I have not even discussed the toxic effects of sulfur, nitrogen, dioxin. The EPA has not even regulated CO2 emissions. The EPA’s inadequate regulations are going to be accepted by the judges, lawyers, businessmen and bureaucrats as the law despite the deficiencies in the regulations and grant permits to build Dirty Coal Burning Plants. Coal Plants we will bestuck with for 50 years.
The evidence to me is overwhelming. We need to change the law before we allow these plants built.
The EPA is our scientific surrogate. Yet it seems to be ignoring the scientific evidence that states the present regulation are going to harm the health of our society. Do you think the EPA is immune from making a mistake? This administration and other government agencies have made mistakes in the recent past.
It is pretty clear to me that we must speak up for our sake, our children’s sake and our grandchildren’s sake.