It’s Time to Get OUR Hands Dirty

Map of Matagorda County, Texas highlighting Ba...

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The proposed coal plant for Bay City, White Stallion Energy Center, would be one of the dirtiest in the nation, and with residents allied against it, there’s legitimate reason to abandon plans for plant construction.  While job creation is certainly important, there are a variety of costs that ought to be considered first.  Pollution concerns make the need for an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, for the White Stallion coal plant a top priority.  An EIS is a comprehensive report measuring the positive and negative impacts a proposed project or plan will have on the environment both physically and socially. It is required by the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, to ensure awareness for decision-makers before continuing on with a proposed community project.  To prove such pollution concerns to the government in order to consider rerouting our development needs, we urge an EIS.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the gritty details, the environmental impact White Stallion will have on air, water, soil, and the economy in Matagorda County and surrounding areas are severe and need to be examined in an EIS that weighs all potential positive and negative consequences of the plant. Dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and other harmful particulate matter, including an annual estimated 2 million tons of coal ash, would be released into the air and undoubtedly impact human and wildlife populations.  Emissions, ash residue, and wastewater as reported by physicians in Matagorda county are extensive, with other studies finding that the plant could lead to an estimated 600 deaths on account of health problems.  Public health research studies have indicated that asthma, lung disease and cancer are just a few of the resulting deleterious health implications, especially for children, who are particularly susceptible to developing asthma and allergies after living under heavily polluted conditions.

Particulate matter found in the air would also inhibit lung functionality in bird populations, who require a clean and healthy environment to survive.  Matagorda, officially consigned by the American Bird Conservancy as a global Bird Area, happens to house the highest count of migratory bird species in the nation.  This marvelous hub of biodiversity certainly makes no place for a dirty coal plant which would destroy the natural habitat.  Being the Birding capital of North America, it is not surprising that the 35-acre Matagorda Bird Nature Center is the county’s chief tourist attraction.  With the sport alone contributing to 1% of national GDP, tourism constitutes a rather valuable source of economic development for the county and for the bird-watching industry.

Wastewater and chemical sludge that would accumulate in these wetland areas would drive up concentrations of mercury, lead, and other vicious toxins, threatening wildlife and endangering the local fishing industries and markets that rely heavily on the bay for commercial and subsistence purposes.  Mercury and lead accumulates in the food base for marine and freshwater organisms.  Local consumption means the problem of mercury and lead in fish would become a widespread problem.  Numerous toxicology and epidemiology studies report the extensive and permanent problems in neural development that come from increased blood- lead/mercury levels, which would progressively increase as these concentrations build up in the body over time, presenting itself negatively in later stages of life.

Equally at risk for heavy mercury and lead contamination from the coal plant are the lush coastland prairies which maintain superior concentrations of species biodiversity and serve as important buffer zones for flood prevention.  Compromising the health of residents and such a rich ecosystem would be a tragic mistake.  Soil contamination means that not only the water but the crops as well would intake mercury and lead deposited in the ground.  Matagorda is one of the biggest producers of rice in Texas, and with the other counties, contributes a total of $300 million a year. With all this natural resource contamination predictably generated by White Stallion, it is certain that Matagorda and its residents would be devastated by the harmful mercury and lead pollutants, and a number of actions have been taken to stop this plant from being constructed.  Calls from rice farmers along with general residents of Bay City have angrily echoed the objection against the building of White Stallion, and Mayor Bricker has been requested to ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do an EIS before construction of White Stallion.

However, this is not simply a problem localized to Bay city– 75 miles upwind, the people of Houston have equal reason to urge an EIS…stay tuned.

–Tyra Ismail, Sierra Club Intern–

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