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Clean or not, power plant would still bring mercury

Robert Cervenka
Guest Column
Waco Tribune-Herald

Friday February 6, 2004

Riesel - It is difficult to believe our country and city leaders would attempt to put a coal-fired power pant in our back yard.

Prevailing winds carrying pollution from the lignite power plant and the Alcoa Smeltering Plant in Rockdale have contributed to acid rain, as have the gas-fired Lake Creek plant and the gas-fired Tradinghouse plant in Hallsburg.

The gas-fired plants already in our back yard are grandfathered from modern-day best available technology and have emitted yellow clouds of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and mercury over our area for 50 years.

Old power plants are the only unregulated source of mercury air emissions in the United States. While strides have been made to reduce other pollutants, how the EPA will regulate mercury in new plants remains in question. Regardless of how strictly it will be controlled, we will get a percentage of it in our streams and lakes.

Coal-fired plants spew hundreds of tons of mercury emissions into our nation's air every year. Texas leads the nation in mercury emissions from coal plants.

Mercury has contaminated 10.2 million acres of lakes and wetlands and 415,000 miles of streams, rivers and coastline.

Fish are a major source of mercury exposure in the United States. Exposure is particularly bad for pregnant women, because mercury can pass through the placenta and enter the fetal brain.

Children exposed to even low levels of mercury before birth and up to two years can experience serious neurological and developmental problems. The Texas Department of Health has issued advisories to limit the amount of fish eaten from Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend lakes because of high levels of mercury. Children of parents who live along the Neches River with diets high in fish have the highest levels of learning and behavioral problems. The FDA has warned pregnant women not to eat tuna because of mercury levels.

I realize coal from Wyoming - which the Riesel plant would burn - burns cleaner than lignite. Still why create further risk in this area?

Send Wyoming coal to Californians who need power. Gas-fired plants are a lot cleaner than coal, and there is plenty of gas in Texas at a depth of 15,000 feet. We are currently drilling at only 9,000 feet.

We don't need a coal power plant spewing emissions from here to Dallas. Proponents of this plant talk of economic value to this area. What about the economic negatives, like declining property values? Do you really want to live in the shadow of this plant or even 80 miles away from it when you really understand what it does to our most precious resources: land, water and children?

Waco residents have always said they wanted clean industry here. Why even consider a coal plant? Proponents say schools would benefit, but with Robin Hood, the schools couldn't keep the money anyway. Just ask Hallsburg or Groesbeck.

Power is wasted in this country. A conservation plan using newer technology with wind power, fuel cells, etc. needs to be developed.

There is a very real question about whether the proposed plant is even needed or is just a "merchant plant," a get-rich scheme for a few individuals.

I am not a tree-hugging environmentalist, only a concerned farmer/rancher who would like to leave our land and the land downwind a cleaner and safer place to live.

Robert L. Cervenka is a Riesel farmer.

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