This is a guest post from Jane West, mother of two boys, ages 3 and 2 and an environmental attorney based in St. Augustine, Florida.
Florida is typically associated with beaches, sunshine, theme parks, more sunshine, oranges and an easy going, flip-flop lifestyle. That allure has attracted people to the sunshine state in droves over the last century. The last two decades have seen stunning figures of more than 1,000 people a day moving to this state in search of jobs, homes and new lives. But what people rarely consider when making that transition is that Florida ranks 3rd worst in the nation for the dirtiest power plant generated air pollution. Even though most Floridians power up with natural gas or nuclear based power generation, coal and oil are dirty culprits here. Antiquated coal and oil-based power plants account for 68% of the state’s pollution, emitting over 38 million pounds of toxic chemicals into our air in 2009 alone.
As an environmentalist, I find this so frustrating. As a mother, I find it infuriating. Toxic air pollution causes cancer, neurological problems, respiratory illnesses and birth defects. The pollutants spewing out of coal and oil plants impact more than just the small radius at the base of the plant. Acid gases form sulfur dioxide and both metals and other pollutants adhere to these particles and travel great distances, impacting our children and our natural resources for miles in every direction. The plants with the worst record in Florida are:
- Southern Company’s Crist and Lansing Smith plants
- Progress Energy’s Crystal River plant
- JEA and NextEra’s St. John’s River plant
- Seminole Electric Coop’s Seminole plant
- Orlando Utilities Stanton plant
- Tampa Electric’s Big Bend plant
What is equally frustrating here is that Florida, land of sunshine, has a lot to offer in the way of renewable resources. Solar energy being the most obvious option. And while scattered efforts are underway, the state as a whole has done a poor job supporting the solar industry in a meaningful way. Likewise, with the development of new wind turbine technology, commercially viable wind energy is now a real option for parts of Florida. As antiquated coal and oil power plants ramp down, Floridians should speak up and demand that the power we use be renewable, clean energy power such as solar and wind. This isn’t just confined to Florida either, our entire nation is functioning on a very old fleet of power plants, many of which are over 4 decades old. While the natural tendency is to convert to what is cheaper, like natural gas, there are still carbon dioxide emissions from gas plants. As long as the transition to new fuel sources must take place, doesn’t it make sense to think ahead, for the sake of our environment and our children, and commit to clean, renewable energy?
Jane West is an attorney. She was a founding partner of the Florida based public interest environmental law firm of Collins & West, P.A. where she represented not-for-profit environmental organizations in land use and environmental disputes.
Thank you, Jane!