The NAACP recently released a report, Coal Blooded, which documents the “Environmental Justice Performance” of all coal fired power plants around the country. The report ranks the 378 plants using EPA toxic emissions data and demographic information – race, income and population density. The report shows that the six million Americans living near coal plants have an average income lower than the national average and 39% are people of color – whereas people of color make up 36% of the US population.
In North Carolina, four coal plants received D or F “Environmental Justice Performance” grades. The good news is that since the data used in the report was 2007-2010, three of these plants have since closed and the fourth will close next year.
• Progress’ WH Weatherspoon coal plant near Lumberton closed in 2011
• Progress’ Lee coal plant near Goldsboro closed this past September
• Duke’s Dan River coal plant in Rockingham County closed this year
• Progress’ LV Sutton coal plant near Wilmington is scheduled to close in late 2013
Progress’ Mayo plant in Person Count barely made passing a grade with a C-. The Mayo plant has more than a half of a million pounds of coal ash stored on site. This year a Duke University study found high levels of the toxics commonly found in coal ash in Mayo Lake, a recreational area near the plant.
The NAACP also looked at the performance by utility, with a dozen companies having the worst “Environmental Justice Performance” scores. Duke Energy ranked seventh worst on that list. Much of the reason is due to the fact that Duke owns the eighth worst scoring plant in the report – Gallagher Generating Station in Indiana. The over 50-year old coal plant is across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky and is a top generator of toxic coal ash in the country. What’s worse is that this plant has released as much as 40 pounds of sulfur dioxide per megawatt- hour of electricity, gaining the title of the nation’s dirtiest power plant by the Environmental Integrity Project in 2007.
Pollution that is emitted from coal plants can cause asthma, lung inflammation, chronic bronchitis, heart conditions and birth defects. In 2010, the Clean Air Task Force, based on EPA data, estimated that coal emissions cause 13,200 premature deaths, 9,700 hospitalizations each year across the country and $100 billion in monetary damages.
Our “home grown energy” is costing us our health, our environment and our wallets. A 2011 analysis by Harvard of the true cost of coal – from the mining to burning to storing coal ash and the health effects to workers, those living downwind, and our air, water and land – is costing the US public a third to over one-half of a trillion dollars annually. That’s a lot of money that the utilities are not paying to burn coal. If they were, coal generated electricity could cost an additional $.17 per kilowatt hour – that is double what Duke customers pay today.