Catasauqua Press

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Letter to the editor:

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 by The Press in Opinion

Coal waste power plants should not be in low-income areas

To the Editor:

Pennsylvania’s current environmental justice listening tour stopped in Allentown [May 11], and I felt compelled to speak on the Keystone State’s absolute ignorance of the amount of poor people living around our coal and coal waste power plants.

To the credit of the Department of Environmental Protection, the agency never approved Northampton Generating’s 2015 proposal to increase lead pollution, but dangerous pollution proposals from Pennsylvania’s 14 coal waste power plants seem to arise constantly, like the recent proposal to average smog-causing nitrogen oxides from the Westwood and Panther Creek coal waste plants.

Within three miles of Panther Creek in Nesquehoning, 43 percent of residents live below the poverty line. In fact, every one of Pennsylvania’s coal waste power plants and seven of its eight standard coal plants are in areas where at least 20 percent of the surrounding population lives under the poverty line. All 14 of Pennsylvania’s coal waste power plants have a combined 1402 megawatt generation capacity. That’s less than one average coal plant! And Pennsylvania exports a third of the electricity it collectively generates anyway. These facilities do not “keep the lights on.” (Read the full list at

This is an environmental injustice and the reason environmental justice designations exist. Unfortunately, these designations are made in respect to census tracts, not pollution sources. If Pennsylvania cared about the health of its poor people, it would stop building its nastiest facilities in the poorest areas.

The bottom 20 percent of workers spend roughly 10 percent of their income on energy, and the Census Bureau found that 11.2 million Americans are driven into poverty annually from medical expenses. The lead, mercury and other heavy metals emitted by coal waste power plants have real health effects. Coal waste power plants also emit carbon dioxide at higher rates than normal coal power plants, driving the extreme weather that results in exorbitant summer electric bills as well as the costs recovering from floods and flood insurance.

Not only does the state punish poor people by allowing corporations to pollute their air, this air pollution then thrusts low-income individuals further into poverty.

Russell Zerbo