Thursday, June 22, 2006

Losing Sleep

It's Tip O'Neill, the late Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, who is credited with coining the phrase "All politics is local." In the 2006 race for the PA House from the 46th District, no issue better fits with this mantra than the debate over the power plant that Robinson Power Co. (owned by the Balogna Family) wants to build at the site of the massive gob pile off Beach Hollow Road (near the McDonald/Midway exit of Route 22-30).

In today's O-R, Caroline Shannon describes the discourse Tuesday evening at the latest of many meetings the Robinson Township Planning Commission has devoted to the plant. She reports that Commission members Judy Kramer and Luke Darragh are losing sleep over the recommendation the commission has to give by July 18 to the township supervisors (who have already begun hearings of their own on the plant). From the article:

"If this is not done correctly, it could be the biggest environmental
nightmare," Darragh said.

Post-Gazette freelancer Andrea Iglar also had a report last week on the planning commission's deliberations.

The proposed plant would burn the refuse coal at the site ("the gob") to make energy. Doing this would stop the drainage of acid from the gob pile into the Raccoon Creek watershed. However, the process would release new emissions into the air, including 40 ounces of mercury a year (which the state maintains is acceptable). And, the burning of the gob produces its own remnant -- fly ash. (There is a significant debate over the fly ash. Scientists hired by Robinson Power Co. say it will be "cementitious" -- but there is a skepticism about this claim. When Robinson Planning Commission members visited a similar plant, they said they saw the fly ash in the air.)

Job creation is also at issue. The building of the plant likely would create hundreds of jobs for local tradesmen such as steamfitters/pipefitters, electrical workers, carpenters, laborers and others. And, perhaps about 50 permanent jobs would be created at the plant for the 30 years it is expected to be operational. (Jack Shea himself, head of the Allegheny County Labor Council, appeared at one of the Robinson Planning Commission meetings to speak in favor of the project.)

Also in the mix: a West Allegheny School District elementary school is only a few miles downwind of the site. To my mind, this is the greatest cause for us to question the safety of the mercury emissions. (The area around the site already has unacceptable air quality levels. The plant is only being proposed because it's expected that this rating will be lifted by the time the plant would come on-line around 2010.)

Long story short -- do the positives (removing the gob pile, reducing acid runoff into the watershed and the creation of new jobs) outweigh the potential public health risk?

You can see why Judy and Luke are losing sleep.

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