Article written by Allison Crawford for WKMS. Find the original story here.
The Kentucky Environmental Foundation has released its Health Impact Assessment for Paducah's Shawnee Fossil Fuel Plant. The report comes as the Commonwealth braces for new EPA regulations on coal plant emissions.
The assessment examines health as determined by environmental and social factors if the plant were to be retrofitted or retired. The study included input from a diverse group of local stakeholders to keep it community oriented. While it recognizes the plant’s financial impacts as an employer, it also takes into account how its emissions can cause and exacerbate chronic disease.
Spokesperson for the Kentucky Environmental Foundation Shelly Biesel said it is impossible to separate economics and health when discussing community development.
“When a city and town have poor health that’s going to affect the economics of the city and or town because you have all of these health care costs and those are huge expenses, especially in the state of Kentucky,” Biesel said. “What the study is trying to do is say there are economic benefits to having better health and, perhaps, in the future we could look toward promoting a sustainable economy that doesn’t negatively impact health.”
Primary researcher for the assessment Deborah Payne said community concerns centered around economic and employment issues while some were concerned about air and water quality. Payne said the report works to encompass all economic and environmental factors impacting health.
“In this conversation we tend to line economics up against the environment and we don’t tend to look at the issue as a whole package,” Payne said. “What’s unique about this report is that it looks at everything in a very objective way and tries not to put too much weight from one thing over another.”
The report finds that retrofitting the plant could create as many as 350 jobs on top of the 300 it already provides. If the plant were retired there could be a maximum potential of 750 jobs lost in 2018 and 2019, totaling $37.5 million in income. There would be a minimum job loss of 440 in 2017, totaling $24.1 million in income.
Closure of the plant would also reduce county pay-roll tax revenue by $300,000 and Payment in Lieu of Tax by $1.1 million. TVA alone contributed nearly 4 million dollars to the McCracken County School budget for the 2014 fiscal year. The report states that secondary impacts may result if parents have to move to find income. Taking their children out of the school system would reduce enrollment, causing a decrease of income. McCracken and Ballard are identified as counties that could be most affected by increased unemployment.
The study says coal fired power plants produce emissions with sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, soot, particulate matter, and heavy metals, which lower air quality. Poor air quality is linked to poor heart and lung health. The report compared Kentucky’s average heart disease death rate of 224 per 100,000 to the national average of 113 per 100,000. Individual county rates were even higher than that of the state with Ballard at 274 and McCracken at 267. Asthma in children in the region is 15.8 percent, which is over 5 percent higher than the state rate of 10.7 percent. The study also looked at water quality, citing EPA documents that show coal ash has contaminated groundwater in three aquifers under and around Shawnee Fossil Plant.
If the plant were to be retrofitted, the study makes recommendations mostly to economic development agents. These include locating new industrial developments in areas where they will have the least impact on public health, making long term investments and funding adjustments based on the eventual retirement of the plant, and making efforts to attract industries with lower emissions. It also suggests that schools track air quality daily through the Air Quality Index to limit exposure and that the TVA conduct additional remediation to reduce pollution from coal ash.
If TVA were to retire the plant, the study recommends that the power provider restore the property according to industry requirements, increase energy efficiency, hire current employees to decommission the plant, provide renewable energy and energy efficient training to offset unemployment, provide a workforce census as soon as possible, and notify local agencies of retirement at least a year in advance.
The study recommends in the context of either scenario that TVA should further study and remediate water contamination from coal ash disposal. It also suggests that the public health department and Kentucky State Nature Preserves post fish advisory signs at fishing areas near the plant, including along Metropolis Lake and the Ohio River.
Payne said during the span of the project, she found that many people in the region are scared of economic transitions, though the area faces high levels of environmental pollution. She said one of her priorities while working on the assessment was to make sure that everyone who is impacted by the Shawnee Plant felt their voice was heard in the conversation.
“I’ve met a lot of interesting people all across the board and that’s been very helpful in understanding where priorities lie in the community and trying to help inform this project so that it’s actually a useful document,” Payne said.
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