Coal plants put profits before people
By Oscar Eason
In my role and steward of the civil and human rights agenda of the NAACP in Oregon, I learned something that scared me. There is a threat to communities nationwide, particularly communities of color and low income communities that we scarcely knew a thing about.
Arsenic, mercury, lead and acid gases are spewing from the nation’s coal fired power plants, putting people at risk across the country. Sixty-eight percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal fired power plant. Coal power plants produce 74 percent of all sulfur dioxide pollution, 18 percent of all nitrogen dioxide pollution and 42 percent of mercury pollution from industrial sources in the U.S.
A report on power plant pollution found that emissions from all power plants in the U.S. are responsible for 30,000 premature deaths, 7,000 asthma-related emergency room visits, and 18,000 cases of chronic bronchitis each year.
We know from friends like the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society, and others that African Americans are twice as likely to die from asthma attacks and are more likely to have lung disease, in spite of lower rates of smoking. All of these create a grim intersecting pattern of exposure, impact, and outcomes.
NAACP and our partners recently released a report, Coal Blooded: Putting Profits before People.
The report analyzes 378 coal fired power plants across the country and ranks them based on their level of polluting emissions and their proximity to people. In Oregon, there is one coal fire power plant that was studied.
According to our ranking, the Boardman Plant in Boardman, Ore., earned a grade of D- because of its level of emissions and its close proximity to people, particularly people of color and people with low incomes. Consequently, our communities are disproportionately exposed to the toxins, like mercury, arsenic, and lead, being pumped into the air by the Boardman Plant.
The attack on Oregon’s health by polluting facilities has a real cost on our lives.
In July, the NAACP 102nd Annual Convention delegates unanimously passed a resolution calling for affirmation of strong regulations to safeguard clean air for immediate action to address pollution from coal fired power plants.
One of our constituents expressed concern at a recent NAACP town hall meeting stating that he knew several people who suffer from asthma, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems associated with air toxins and poor air quality.
Our legislators should strongly consider current and proposed measures that reduce the pollution caused by coal fired power plants, like the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, the Greenhouse Gas Rule and other related rules.
Implementing the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule can result in major pollution reduction, which would save a significant number of lives in Oregon. Other proposed standards for the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule and an upcoming utility carbon rule would be instrumental in protecting our health and economy.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Oregon could also see a possible yield of $11million to $28 million in health benefits each year if these rules were implemented. Supporting such safeguards would serve as an advantage for each and every Oregonian.
We say yes to a healthier environment and economy by supporting and implementing the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule and other upcoming safeguards. Let’s take the lead Oregon!
Oscar Eason is president of the NAACP Oregon State Conference.