The East Kentucky Power Cooperative is planning a new coal-fired power plant on the Kentucky River in Clark County. In connection with this project, the co-op is applying to the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers for a permit to dump coal ash and other wastes upon wetlands and in tributary streams.
This is a request, in effect, to be permitted to pollute further the already seriously polluted river.
As a native and longtime resident of the Kentucky River watershed, as a rural electric cooperative member and rate-payer, and as a conservationist, I oppose the granting of this permit.
Bearing upon EKPC's application to the Corps of Engineers there are several things we know for certain.
We know that this application comes after a severely critical audit, released April 22 by the Kentucky Public Service Commission, of EKPC's financial condition. And it comes after the withdrawal, by EKPC itself, of its $921 million financing application to the PSC.
We know, too, that the proposed plant will have a working life of only 33 years, whereas the wastes stored on the site will remain toxic and continue to pollute groundwater and the river virtually forever. This would be an ongoing threat to the water supplies of Winchester, Lexington and other users on down the river.
Who would assume liability for this continuing danger? Who would pay? Perhaps the ratepayers and the taxpayers would have to assume responsibility and pay the bills — if a solution to the problem should ever be found. But the most tragic costs would be borne by the humans and other creatures in the area and downstream.
We know, furthermore, that we are not talking here about organic wastes that would eventually degrade into harmlessness. We are talking about permanent poisons such as lead, mercury, cadmium, zinc, selenium, arsenic, thallium, molybdenum and boron — neurotoxins and carcinogens.
Considering the gravity of the issues involved, both economic and ecological, and in view of the unanswered questions about long-term consequences and liability, one must ask why the permitting process, which ought already to have given way to further study and thought, is going ahead as if there were nothing to worry about.
It is going ahead, I assume, out of habit or inertia — because it is what we've done before. But what we've done before has been to assume that the world's atmosphere, ecosystems and watersheds —whose health is synonymous with our own — are capable without limit of absorbing our abuses and our poisons.
All of us who are more than half awake have learned by now that this is not true. We know from many studies and much evidence that the world's health and its supplies of life-sustaining materials have been seriously depleted or degraded.
In the face of our energy-gluttony, which we have been encouraged to consider "normal," such catastrophes as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are warning us that some risks, however reputedly small, should not be taken.
What we have done before clearly is not good enough. In Kentucky as elsewhere we need to answer the questions that are answerable, and to confront honestly the questions that we cannot answer. We need to stop and think — if the holders of our trust are any longer capable of thinking, or even of stopping.