Why Jamaica Should Say NO to Coal: Lessons To Be Learned From Elsewhere


Jamaica, please say NO to coal. And please sign the Jamaica Environment Trust’s petition: https://www.change.org/p/government-of-jamaica-say-no-to-coal-ja-c5f91528-4c3c-42f5-83db-17c568975e83

When environmental professionals and advocates express their concerns, there is always a suggestion that one should not become “emotional” over  environmental issues. One should be coolly objective. Fine, but for my part I see nothing wrong with a little emotion, unless it is wildly out of control of course! It’s a perfectly human attribute. And if one cannot get emotional about the Earth that nourishes and gives us life, then we might as well turn to stone. I suspect that this idea may come up if the advocate is a woman. If a man expressed himself strongly about such an issue, people would sit up and listen; he is being forceful. If a woman does the same thing, it is deemed as semi-hysteria.

Be that as it may, those who work in the environmental field do their homework. They are scientists, researchers and specialists in the field. And so I have no hesitation in recommending that Jamaicans “say NO to coal,” based on the science (not emotion). There is ample evidence, globally. A few recent news stories will give you a sense of what is happening. Each one raises important issues that we in Jamaica should bear in mind – I have highlighted a few things that may be relevant to our situation. Think of these stories as “cautionary tales”…

Mahama Arayiga is Ghana's Minister for the Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation. (Photo: modernghana.com)
Mahama Arayiga is Ghana’s Minister for the Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation. (Photo: modernghana.com)
  • Ghana: On October 10, the Ghanaian Environment Minister Mahama Ayariga denied that his government is building a coal-fired power plant to be constructed by the Chinese Shenzhen Energy Group, despite earlier Government announcements. Minister Ayariga told the media: “I don’t think we are setting up a coal plant. Somebody has put in an application to set up a coal power plant, he hasn’t been given permission to set up a coal power plant. I am not sure that there will be a permit issued to anyone to set up a coal power plant in Ghana…Having gone to deposit the our instrument of ratification of the Paris Agreement, we will not come back home and be permitting coal plants. Be rest assured that nobody has permission to build a coal power plant.”
Coal ash that spilled from the Lee plant near Goldsboro, North Carolina. (Photo: Waterkeeper Alliance)
Coal ash that spilled from the Lee coal plant near Goldsboro, North Carolina. This is called “fly ash.” Read more here.  (Photo: Waterkeeper Alliance)
  • North Carolina: Over one billion gallons of water flowed out of a cooling pond at a retired Duke Energy coal-fired power plant in Golsdboro, NC and into the Neuse River, after part of the retaining earth wall on the 545-acre pond gave way during flooding from Hurricane Matthew. Earlier this year, regulators told the company to reinforce the wall surrounding coal ash ponds, which the company reluctantly did. And it is a good thing; otherwise the coal ash would have poured into the river, also. Please note: the plant closed in 2012. Meanwhile, Duke Energy recently agreed to remove three huge pits, holding millions of tons of waterlogged coal ash containing toxic heavy metals, at the Buck Steam Station near Salisbury. Chemicals contained in coal ash were found in drinking-water wells in Dukeville, a rural hamlet adjacent to the Buck plant. Among them is hexavalent chromium (known to cause lung cancer when inhaled and carcinogenic when ingested). In 2014 a dump at another Duke plant ruptured, coating miles of the Dan River in gray sludge.
  • Coal ash pulled from the bottom of the Dan River near the site of the Duke Energy spill in Eden, N.C. in February, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Dan River Basin Association/National Geographic)
    Coal ash pulled from the bottom of the Dan River near the site of the Duke Energy spill in Eden, N.C. in February, 2014. The ash contains arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury and other toxic heavy metals and fishing from the river was banned. (Photo courtesy of Dan River Basin Association/National Geographic)

    Illinois: FutureGen, a “zero emissions” project based on the myth of “clean coal” has been finally shelved as an enormous waste of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money. The technology had not worked out as it should, and the cost ballooned to US$1.8 billion. American Electric Power, a company with a plan to implement carbon capture and sequestration at its Huntington Plant in West Virginia cancelled its project in 2012 after concluding that the technology was unviable on a commercial scale. Mississippi Power Company is going ahead with its Kemper ‘integrated gasification coal combined cycle,” or IGCC plant, although the price of the plant has now doubled since inception and the long-delayed project is at least a year away from operation.

  • Angry residents blocked roads near the Vinh Tan Thermal Power Plant 2 in April last year after coal ash was carried on the wind during dry weather, causing major health issues. Here the coal ash is being sprayed to reduce air pollution. The residents were to be relocated. (Photo: vietnambreakingnews.com)
    Angry residents blocked roads near the Vinh Tan Thermal Power Plant 2 in April 2015 after coal ash was carried on the wind during dry weather, causing major health issues. Here the coal ash is being sprayed to reduce air pollution. The residents were to be relocated. (Photo: vietnambreakingnews.com)

    Vietnam: Plans to build 31 coal-fired power stations by 2020 are raising concerns. In April 2015 coal ash from Vinh Tan 2 Thermal Power Station in Binh Thuan Province spread to nearby residential areas due to low levels of air humidity. If all 14 planned coal-fired power plants in the delta of the Mekong River are built, an estimated 70 million cubic meters of hot water of 40 degrees Celsius will be dumped into the river each day. The hot water will destroy the aquatic ecosystem, affecting the livelihoods of millions of people living on river basins and on the coast. A 2015 Harvard University study found that approx. 4,300 Vietnamese die prematurely every year from illnesses related to coal-fired power plants. Meanwhile, head of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim has urged Vietnam to rethink its plans, which he said would be a “disaster” for the planet. He announced the bank would devote 28% of its funding to helping developing countries invest in renewables.

A Royal Bengal Tiger in the Sundarbans National Park. With a population estimated at only 2,500 it has now been listed as endangered.
A Royal Bengal Tiger in the Sundarbans National Park, now threatened by a coal-fired power plant. With a population estimated at only 2,500 this animal has been listed as endangered by the IUCN.
  • Bangladesh: The Government is pushing ahead with a joint venture with India – a 1300MW coal power plant, plus further industrialization and power plants likely to follow – very close to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sundarbans National Park and Biosphere Reserve. Read this detailed description of the dangers of the plant and bear in mind the proposed power plant in Jamaica is for 1000MW. UNESCO has raised major concerns and there have been protests in Bangladesh and India, so far to no avail. UNESCO’s recent report noted concerns over pollution from coal ash by air, pollution from wastewater and waste ash, increased shipping and dredging to bring in the coal, and the cumulative impact of industrial and related development infrastructure on the forest – a huge area of mangroves created over 2 million years ago in the vast delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Padna and Megna Rivers.
  • The Bayswater and Liddell power stations in Muswellbrook, New South Wales. Bayswater recorded double-digit increases in toxic emissions the year it was bought by AGL. Photograph: Ian Waldie/Getty Images
    The Bayswater and Liddell power stations in Muswellbrook, New South Wales, Australia. Bayswater recorded double-digit increases in toxic emissions the year it was bought by AGL. Photograph: Ian Waldie/Getty Images

    Australia: The country’s National Pollutant Inventory noted that Bayswater power station in New South Wales, recorded double-digit rises in sulphur dioxide, hydrochloric acid, fine particle pollution and mercury output in 2014-15. The owners of the plant, AGL, which also owns Loy Yang power station in Victoria (the largest source of carbon pollution in Australia) plan to run the plants until they are 50 and 60 years old, respectively. Yes, coal plants last for decades.

  • Virginia: Although the Possum Point Power Plant switched from coal to natural gas in 2003, there still remain five “ponds” that hold over a billion gallons of toxic coal ash and contaminated water on the banks of Quantico Creek. The company will be releasing 200 million gallons of waste water into the Creek. This poses a major threat to the river and ground water. A court case is under way. Read this detailed account of the problems hereContamination of drinking water is a major concern.
  • Colorado: Colorado Springs area residents have filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., challenging the “unclassifiable” label given to sulfur dioxide emissions from the coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant. Independent studies show serious violations of these emissions. Coal-fired power plants are a leading source of sulfur dioxide in the U.S., reports the American Lung Association. Asthmatics beware. 
  • Norway’s state pension fund (the largest in the world) barred 52 coal-related companies from its portfolio in April, as part of implementing a new mandate prohibiting investments in companies that rely on coal-related ventures for 30 percent or more of their business. This includes more than US$500 million worth of shares and bonds in Duke Energy and three Duke subsidiaries, largely over the utility’s record of mishandling waste from its coal-fired power plants (see above).
“Ending the use of coal is a simple, no-regrets public health intervention," says the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change. Photo: Fiddlers Ferry coal-fired power station in Widnes, northern England. Pollution from coal plants alone costs the UK as much as £3.1bn each year in human health impacts. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters
“Ending the use of coal is a simple, no-regrets public health intervention,” says the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change. Photo: Fiddlers Ferry coal-fired power station in Widnes, northern England. Pollution from coal plants alone costs the UK as much as £3.1bn each year in human health impacts. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters
  • UK: The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change notes in a new report: “Climate change and air pollution are both major health threats. They share a common driver: the combustion of fossil fuels. Pollution from coal plants alone costs the UK as much as £3.1bn each year in human health impacts.”  The Alliance consists of 15 health bodies including seven royal colleges of medicine and the British Medical Association. Yes, there is a cost in human health.
David Suzuki.
David Suzuki.

In a recent article headlined We Can’t Dig Our Way Out of the Fossil Fuels HoleCanadian academic, science broadcaster and environmental activist David Suzuki (now 80 years old!) commented wryly: 

I’ve often thought politicians inhabit a parallel universe. Maybe it’s just widespread cognitive dissonance, coupled with a lack of imagination, that compels them to engage in so much contradictory behaviour. Trying to appease so many varying interests isn’t easy. Rather than focusing on short-term economic and corporate priorities, though, politicians should first consider the long-term health and well-being of the people they’re elected to represent.

I hope the Jamaican Government will do what it knows is the right thing.

#sayNOtocoalJA


2 thoughts on “Why Jamaica Should Say NO to Coal: Lessons To Be Learned From Elsewhere

  1. Excellent piece. My views of politicians are very similar to Mr Suzuki , well at times even more caustic as I cannot fathom Why we are even having a discussion on adopting Coal technology in Jamaica. Are we so desperate as a nation that we will stoop to anything and anyone? Have we not elected governments to administer on our befall the best decisions that reflect our common interest?

    I would hope the Jamaican environmentalists will NOT be silent and I will certainly keep an eye on this issue as a concerned citizen. Someone has to check those we have employed to do the checks and balance. Please keep us informed as you glean more information . Once again great and poignant story.

    Kwesi

    Like

    1. Thank you, Kwesi. I really appreciate your comments! Yes, I think that quote by Mr. Suzuki was quite gentle. I can be much more caustic too. I absolutely agree with you – how can this even be under consideration, now or at any other time – but especially now? Environmentalists will certainly not be silent on this one (they have in fact already spoken out and I shared their comments in earlier blog posts). Of course I will keep you more informed, and plan to do a more detailed follow up on the actual impact of coal – perhaps later this week. I would like to ask ALL concerned citizens, however, like yourself to also speak out about it, as often as you can! You can advocate, too! But thank you so much for your encouragement.

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