Informed citizens cite European examples of internalizing environmental costs
Ohioans debate coal's costs, health effects, and its competitors' viability
This news story was submitted by one of our readers. To become informed and let the distorting mainstream media wither away, we need to organize to inform each other. Do you know news in your area? Please submit it. A recent graduate, the author below is an activist and citizen journalist in Cleveland, Ohio; he can be reached at evanwilhelms at gmail.com.
by Evan WilhelmsThe company AMP-Ohio is planning the construction of a 960-megawatt coal-pulverizing power plant in Meigs County of Southern Ohio. Once they have subscriptions to cover 75% of the power produced, the company will get funding and building will be confirmed. Cleveland Public Power, the largest publicly owned electrical utility in the state, is currently considering an 80-100 megawatt share in that power plant, in a subscription lasting 50 years.
The area along the Ohio River Valley already claims 18 coal-fired power plants, which frequently give both Ohio and West Virginia high rankings among the most polluted states in the nation. In response, Meigs CAN, a political action committee from the county, has begun a campaign to oppose the plant's construction.
EarthWatch Ohio recently organized a panel discussion on the subject including members of Public Utilities committee on City Council, the Cleveland Sustainability Programs Manager, and the founder of Meigs CAN, Elisa Young.
Richard Steubi of Nextwave Energy, Inc. noted there is no agreed upon way to equate a dollar saved by an electricity customer in Cleveland with the additional burden that's imposed in Meigs county and with the additional impact on climate change. Yet once fairly estimated, this cost could be internalized by the power consumer -- either the individual or the city -- via a tariff or tax.
Elisa Young pointed out that Norway has enforced carbon sequestration at a cost of $45 million per year for one million tons of carbon. AMP-Ohio estimates emissions along the lines of 7 tons a year.
Andrew Watterson, Cleveland Sustainability Programs Manager, cited the example of Germany: they use a feed-in tariff of 75 cents per kilowatt hour then invest funds in renewable energy sources.
Regarding the burden imposed in Meigs county, putting a price on one's health and longevity is controversial and could stir up moral ire, but it is not impossible. A starting point could be direct health care costs: it would be feasible to estimate the incidence of illnesses -- those that are caused or aggravated by exposure to air and water pollutants -- within this area that receives most of the pollutants and then extrapolate the costs of treatment.
To an individual who has, for example, been diagnosed with cancer caused by exposure to fine particle pollutants, it will be little comfort to learn that your bills will be paid perhaps through a dividend from a carbon tax. However, if the consumer is to pay all these real costs when they buy the coal-based power, renewable energy sources would seem a far more reasonable alternative, and the investment in a coal plant in the first place would be a lot less likely.
The members of the panel were not as optimistic about the likelihood of such a system. As Andrew Watterson said, referring to the tariffs instated in Germany, “Americans aren't willing to pay.”
Still, there were some realistic expectations. Nolan Moser, a Law Fellow with the Ohio Environmental Council, noted, “if we look at the facts, and we look at the entire situation, there is a strong suggestion that this is not the cheapest long-term option.” All the members of the panel recognized that some sort of carbon regulation was on the table nationally, and that coal was likely to not be the cheapest option over the next fifty years.
The panel's general apprehension about alternative sources of power was summed up by one city council member, “If the sun's not shining and the wind's not blowing... we're sitting in the dark,” which also demonstrated some poor understanding of the technology available.
The City of Cleveland has until March 1st to decide to subscribe into the coal power plant.
Editor’s note: Is awareness of climate change old news? Indulging my fondness for history while rooting for the underdog, I relay reader Josh Vincent’s finding: classical economist Henry George wrote, "Like a bridge of hair is the line of temperature that we must keep. Investigators tell us of the existence of temperatures of thousands of degrees above zero and thousands of degrees below zero. But man's body must maintain the constant level of a fraction over 98 degrees above zero. A rise or fall of seven degrees either way from this level will kill him. With the permanent rise or fall of a few more degrees in the mean temperature of the surface of the globe it would become uninhabitable by us." This is from his Science of Political Economy, Book 1, Chapter 1, p. 13, published in the year of his death, 1879 -- one of several remarks of his that were well ahead of his time.
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