Proposed Power Plant Divides Community

BY ON January 9, 2012

Lamar and Ronnie TylerA few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the fond memories I have of crabbing and fishing with my father as a child in the lakes and rivers in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. I expressed concerns about my kids not being able to continue those same traditions due to toxic pollution in the waters.

I received lots of interesting feedback from that post. I even had a few people contact me directly to tell me about the growing debate surrounding the proposed coal-fired power plant in Surry County, VA. Most of my family still lives in a neighboring county, so this debate hits home.

About 3 years ago, Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, ODEC, announced plans to build what would be Virginia’s largest coal-fired power plant in Surry County in the 2016 to 2017 time frame. Currently, development of the power plant has slowed due to the economic recession, zoning permits, and approvals that are needed from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Meanwhile, the debate about whether the plant should be built simmers. Just two weeks ago, the Isle of Wight County board of Supervisors, from a neighboring county, passed a resolution to oppose the coal-fired power plant.

ODEC officials say that the construction of this power plant could bring more than 2000 jobs to the area and approximately 225 permanent jobs for plant operation. However, they are not saying exactly how many of those jobs will go to local residents. A press release from the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition shares a report that shows that only a small percentage of the jobs will actually go to local residents because of the specialized skills that are needed to build the power plant.

The report, by labor analyst and economist Scott Moore, of Moore Data LLC, shows that only a small fraction of construction jobs for the plant would go to local residents, because a very limited number have the experience or skills needed for plant construction.

The report estimates that the number of temporary jobs for county residents during the 5-year construction phase would range between 48 and 217, and that relatively few current local residents would receive permanent jobs during the plant’s operation.

Will this coal plant really be a benefit to the local economy? No, say opponents of the power plant who are concerned about the impacts to the environment and public health. This power plant could cause increased instances of asthma, more sick days, premature deaths, and added financial costs to the local economy due to the increase in health issues. As reported by a local news station in an article about the power plant debate, the President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, William Baker,  says “a study using ODEC’s own information shows high levels of mercury and other pollutants hitting the air and landing in waterways if the plant is built.”

I made a few phone calls to family and friends in the area, and found out that this debate is literally pitting neighbor against neighbor with some residents saying the debate is broken down across racial lines, with many–not all–African Americans in support of the power plant. With emotions running so high, I wanted to know how the community could come together to work on a solution that is in everyone’s best interest.

I also had the opportunity to talk to Betsy Shepard, a mom, an activist and a blogger who is fighting this coal-fired power plant. Betsy lives 8 miles from the site for the proposed power plant. Betsy says she is determined not to raise my children in the shadows of coal stacks.” So she is going door to door to inform her neighbors of the dangers of the coal-fired plant.  Betsy gave me the following tips how to reach your neighbors, even when emotions are running so high:

  •  Just because you disagree, does not mean that things have to be ugly. Respect one another and remain civil. Remember that we are a community.
  • Remember that we all want the best for our families (whether it’s jobs, education, or clean air.) Let’s use this as a common point to start the conversation.
  • Whether you are for or against it, you should challenge the claims of Power Company by asking questions. Hold them accountable for the claims that they are making. And be diligent in following up with them when they owe you answers.
  • Remember that your voice can make a difference. Keep talking about the impacts to environment to everyone that will listen. If we can get people informed, they will be able to make an informed decision.

I totally agree with Betsy when she says your voice can make a difference, which is why I joined the Moms Clean Air Force. My voice, along with thousands of other MCAF moms and dads, creates a powerful force to fight for our children’s right to breathe clean air.


TOPICS: African-American Community, Coal, Mercury Poisoning, Motherhood, Pollution, Social Justice