THE Sierra Club, ever the unyielding opponent of modern life, has released a new report on coal-fired plants. Surprise, surprise: The report views power plants as a threat to humanity!
The report reviewed water permits for 386 coal plants and claims that 274 of them, including six in Oklahoma, discharge coal ash and scrubber wastewater into waterways. The Sierra Club ominously warns that there are no limits “on the amounts of toxic metals like arsenic, boron, cadmium, mercury and selenium” that power plants “are allowed to dump into public waters.”
Whitney Pearson, who heads the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Oklahoma, says “dumping poisons into our water without rigorous monitoring and reporting threatens the health, drinking water and recreation opportunities in Oklahoma.” Her comment suggests there's no problem with dumping poisons into water so long as the government monitors it and companies report the practice, but never mind.
The report is clearly designed to foster fear. After all, who wants to drink arsenic? But local power producers' rebuttals make clear the Sierra Club is engaged in rank propaganda, not serious, data-driven analysis.
Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. spokesman Brian Alford noted the company's wastewater permits are renewed every five years by both the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. Two OG&E plants have been checked in the past two years. Regulators' inspections found the metals listed in the Sierra Club report were “below detection.” In addition, Alford said OG&E doesn't dispose of coal ash on site at either power plant.
The Sierra Club stressed that three of Oklahoma's six coal plants are operating with expired Clean Water Act permits. But a Western Farmers Electric Cooperative official noted those plants are still in compliance with federal law. The existing permit remains in force until a new permit is issued if an application is made at least six months prior to expiration.
According to worldlifeexpectancy.com, the top 15 causes of death in Oklahoma are heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, accidents, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer's, influenza and pneumonia, Nephritis/kidney disease, suicide, liver disease, blood poisoning, Parkinson's Disease, homicide and hypertension.
Note: “Drinking the water” didn't make the list. Neither did “arsenic poisoning” or “mercury poisoning.”
But if the Club for Ungrowth gets its way and forces power plant closures, another category may shoot up the cause-of-mortality rankings: death from heat stroke. Without the air conditioning provided by affordable electricity, people suffer in the scorching Oklahoma summer, particularly the poor and elderly. Big Green would make power so expensive that the poor and elderly would suffer.
If the Sierra Club's report is to be taken seriously, citizens must believe that federal and state environmental regulators are turning a blind eye to the dumping of poisons into our water. We're not fans of the EPA, but that's because the agency is notorious for regulatory overkill, not for ignoring egregious pollution practices. A U.S. Supreme Court case recently focused on the EPA's efforts to declare an Idaho couple's property a “wetlands” and force implementation of an expensive compliance order — even though the property had no water on it. Now the Sierra Club would have us believe that same EPA is merrily handing out permits to industrial polluters slopping arsenic into bodies of water.
Given that the Sierra Club supports increased EPA regulation, it's clear that even it doesn't believe everything implied by its report's conclusions.