Last night in St. Paul, VA — ground zero for Dominion Virginia Power’s
proposed Wise County coal plant — over 100 citizens raised their
voices to question members of the Department of Environmental Quality.
Residents raised a variety of concerns. The hearing was organized for
DEQ to get input on their ‘draft permit.’ Well, input they got. And a
lot of it!
The meeting started with a short technical presentation from the head
of DEQ for SW Virginia. In essence, he explained how DEQ felt that the
plant was going to be “clean coal” and that is met all requirements.
Honestly, it was pretty boring, and everyone was eager for the Q&A.
Kathy Selvage from the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards kicked
off the Q&A by asking about mercury.
How much mercury will the plant emit?Just over 70 pounds a year, but
don’t worry, its all “within regulation”.
But don’t 1 in 6 women of childbearing age have unsafe levels of
mercury in their blood? Don’t worry, it’s within regulation.
Kathy pointed out that just 1/70th of a teaspoon can contaminate a 25
acre lake. “We’re doing the best we can”
A minister from a neighboring community grew quite emotional when he
asked why they chose to build the power plant less than a mile from
the local elementary school. “Our modeling shows that all the of
pollution will be at ‘protective limits’. They kept using this term
‘protective limits. Personally, I think NO POLLUTION is the most
Tom Cormons from Appalachian Voices echoed concerns raised by the
National Forest Service about the plants impact on Linville Gorge
Wilderness in the Pisgah National Forest. People at the hearing ranged
from high profile names like the local celebrity Frank Taylor who
repeatedly asked about pollution levels and the cumulative effects of
the multiple power plants upwind from St. Paul, to concerned parents
who have children attending St. Paul schools (the schools are all less
than a mile away from the construction site).
While the DEQ had plenty of specific answers when it came to the
amount of pollutants the power plant would emit, they maintained that
they could not comment on the effects they might have. According to
EPA data, the CARBO coal-fired power plant, also located in St. Paul,
is responsible for 59 premature deaths each year. How many will occur
from the proposed plant? DEQ couldn’t say.
A resident who lives right off the main road asked about pollution
from transportation. Dominion estimates that the plant will require
six hundred diesel coal trucks a day to feed coal for the plant. Will
it lead to more mountaintop removal coal mining? More smog? DEQ
In fact, the DEQ maintained throughout the question and answer period,
that their realm of study only pertains to how the pollutants of this
plant would relate to the legal limits of pollutants. Basically, the
DEQ claims that it is beyond their ability to do anything about the
plant’s potential This inability to give a straight answer on so many
important issues seemed to only cause the local citizens to want to
ask more, harder hitting questions. In the end, only two or three
defenses of the coal industry were voiced by attendants.
Before the DEQ briefing, Matt Wasson of Appalachian Voices held a
“community briefing” to give citizens a chance to hear another side of
the story. Word of our presentation was spread through talking to
folks who came to the earlier DEQ question and answer period, and
through the efforts of Kayti Wingfield from Sierra Club and myself
hitting the town, going from business to business to reach out the
locals, and we were surprised to hear so many residents concerned
about the power plant. About thirty people showed up to the basement
of St Therese Catholic Church around the corner from the elementary
school. As folks gathered and got settled, free pizza and soda in
hand, it was obvious that these families were excited to learn more.
Matt’s presentation used images of the existing power plant in Russell
County, mountaintop removal in Wise, and Google earth imaging to paint
the picture of exactly what the Coal industry has done and will
continue to do to south west Virginia if allowed to continue with
plans to build this power plant. It showed that Wise County is the
second most heavily strip mined county in all of Appalachia with 25%
of the land being destroyed. It showed that unemployment, poverty,
suicide rates, and the number of disabled citizen’s all correlate
directly with mountaintop removal mining. It showed that there is not
much coal left in SW Virginia, and how this plant would require much
more mountaintop removal. The picture of what will come should this
power plant be built is clear, and is damn ugly. Those who came and
saw the presentation wanted more to do, and some were ready to come to
the SCC hearing in Richmond on January 8th.
-Josh Tulkin (CCAN) and Mike McCoy (Appalachian Voices)