Central Illinois needs clean and green jobs, too
Last June, EPA announced proposed rules to minimize carbon pollution in new power plants. This June, they will announce proposed rules for existing power plants, like the Dallman power plants at CWLP. In June 2015, after input from all stakeholders, the EPA will publish final rules, and each state will have one year to develop plans to comply. We have two years to formulate a great plan for Illinois and Springfield.
“Clean coal” is a dirty joke. Mining is dirty; it destroys thousands of acres of land each year in Illinois. Multinational coal companies like Peabody actively perform hilltop removal, forest destruction and water pollution in southern Illinois. Slurry ponds leach into and poison the groundwater. Blasting and hauling coats everything nearby (including people’s lungs) with a filthy, brownish-black, oily dust. Southern Illinoisans are growing increasingly critical of the toll on their communities from strip mining.
Coal is dirty when burned. Coal byproducts include mercury, arsenic and other poisons. Ash pits, like the Dynegy ash pits on our nearby scenic Middle Fork River, can leach hazardous waste into rivers and streams. IEPA gave CWLP a variance to bypass Clean Water Act rules for excessive boron pollution in Sugar Creek. CWLP’s toxic ash pits are hidden by trees along I-55, and behind a concrete barrier north of Spaulding dam.
Coal has even polluted politics. Recent news stories detail how coal companies seeking permits for strip mines gave “donations” to political committees headed by the very state regulators who issue mining permits. Regulators got big trouble; coal barons got mining permits.
Recent studies have proven that for every job created by the coal industry, renewable energy industries create three or four jobs with the same money. Recent good news touted 100,000 new “green energy” jobs in Illinois already, but because the State of Illinois directs most green energy jobs north of I-80, we were left out.
Central and southern Illinois deserve their fair share of green energy jobs, but for us, the State of Illinois sends subsidies to greedy coal magnates like Peabody to finance construction of their Prairie Power plant in southern Illinois. Peabody turned around and sold it to rural electric co-ops, while locking co-ops into permanent contracts to buy Peabody’s coal, ripped from filthy, destructive strip mines which plague our southern neighbors.
Locally, CWLP’s two oldest coal-fired plants not only produce significant pollution, they waste around three million gallons of water per day to sluice coal ash. They use lake water for cooling, raising the water temperature and increasing evaporation loss from Lake Springfield. CWLP faces costly problems with their wet ash pits, soon to be regulated because of the recent spate of toxic ash pond collapse disasters.
CWLP commissioned Burns-McDonnell to study EPA compliance. They determined our two oldest coal-burning plants are “economically marginal,” due in part to inability to meet current and proposed clean air and water standards. The study concludes they might need to be retired soon. CWLP can start now, either converting “economically marginal” Units 31 and 32 to cleaner gas, or simply closing them down. The study suggests that the newest plant, which is cleaner and uses less water, is sufficient to meet all of our needs. Shutting these old plants down enhances our quality of life by saving significant water, reducing pollution, reducing the fly ash problem and cleaning up Sugar Creek and the Sangamon River.
Rather than fight EPA, CWLP can lead the charge to shape Illinois’ plan to meet the EPA rules in a manner that maximizes renewables and rewards energy efficiency and conservation. By doing so, we can cash in locally on the green energy revolution that until now has left us behind. Our leaders must team up with other downstate communities to force state officials to quit wasting millions subsidizing coal companies, to instead fund green energy initiatives in Springfield, to create and encourage private green industry jobs in Springfield, and to begin a definitive move away from the high social, economic, political and environmental costs of dirty energy sources.
Don Hanrahan is a Springfield attorney and lifelong resident of central Illinois. He believes the global energy and environmental crises present unique opportunies for our community to develop clean energy alternatives that can expand economic opportunity.