Wednesday, November 14, 2007

About those power plants....

The recent ruling against the UW's Charter St. coal-fired power plant got me to thinking about the state of power plants in Wisconsin in general. It also set me to wondering why it is that older power plants are allowed to continue belching out huge amounts of toxics so long as they don't "make any significant repairs or upgrades." That's just plain stupid.

So I started digging around. What I've found is pretty disheartening, and goes to show that we've still a long, long way to go as a state if we're really serious about cleaning up our act.

First I found this report from 2000, which found Wisconsin to be #3 in the nation for dioxin emissions levels. Hooray! That report led me to a more up-to-date site with a really handy interactive map of the country that shows pollution levels in each state and specific statistics on their various power plants. Wisconsin, it should be noted, can boast the following fun stats:

SO2 191,000 Tons in 2002
NOx 88,900 Tons in 2002
CO2 48,655,200 Tons in 2002
Mercury 2,200 Pounds in 2002

Health Statistics
Deaths 474 per Year
Heart Attacks 879 per Year
Lung Cancer Deaths 50 per Year
Asthma Attacks 11,949 per Year
Hospital Admissions 492 per Year
Chronic Bronchitis 353 per Year
Asthma ER Visits 668 per Year

The worst offenders are typically our coal-fired plants, all of which could be outfitted with modern pollution controls that would cut emissions by 90%. Why hasn't this been done? Expense? Are they putting a price tag on the value of human (not to mention flora and fauna) life? Screw that. We need to put some serious pressure on both legislators and power companies to update the plants as soon as possible. There's simply no good excuse to let these plants go on spewing out so much shit, especially when the technology exists to stop it.

If you're morbidly curious, the EPA also makes available the 2006 data from the Toxics Release Inventory Database.

So we done good with the Charter St. plant--though we should probably remain vigilant to make sure that the changes ordered by the judge are implemented in a timely fashion. Clearly, however, there's a lot of work left to be done for our lovely state. Getting rid of the exceptions allowed for older plants not to update their pollution controls is one step. Making sure every plant then follows through with the updates is the next. Eventually finding cleaner energy sources is the final step.

I have no desire to breathe toxic air and eat mercury-laden fish, do you?

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