Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Question of Trust

On Thursday evening, I was in attendance for three hours of the four hours of testimony heard by the Robinson Township Supervisors on the waste-coal power plant proposed for the gob pile off Beach Hollow Road near the McDonald/Midway exit of Route 22-30. Caroline Shannon has a report in Saturday's O-R about the hearing.

Among the presenteers was Dr. James Roberts, director of the Magee-Womens Research Institute and a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Roberts, an expert on the causes of health problems that originate during pregnancy, advised the township supervisors to deny the permit applications for the plant due to public health risks that could be caused by the mercury it would emit into the air. Attorneys for Robinson Power Co., the applicant, downplayed Dr. Roberts' testimony on the basis he is not an expert on this type of power plant and the procedures to be used there.

Perhaps one of the most interesting exchanges between Dr. Roberts and attorneys for Robinson Power Co. occurred when the attorneys pushed Dr. Roberts on the fact that the state Department of Environmental Protection has indicated that the amount of mercury to be emitted by the plant is safe. Dr. Roberts responded that there may be a difference between "what is permitted and what is healthy." The ability of local officials and residents to trust the state DEP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been a question throughout the hearings and meetings on the plant.

An aside: The hearing was held in the Fort Cherry High School Auditorium. The auditorium, which does not have air conditioning, felt like a sauna due to Thursday's high temperatures and humidity. Sitting there, I thought back to the Fort Cherry school board meetings 14 years ago held in that same auditorium on the proposed high school renovation project. It was in one of those meetings that the school board decided not to put A/C in the auditorium as a cost-saving measure. I was a junior and a student council member at FC that year and spoke at the meetings in favor of the renovation project. At the time, not providing for air conditioning in the auditorium seemed like a reasonable step to reduce the overall cost of what was a controversial project. But, no one then ever anticipated this four-hour hearing in late July 2006 when several dozen residents, consultants and lawyers would all shed several pounds from the heat!

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