Last night the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) opened a two-day public hearing on the proposed coal burning power plant for Holland, Michigan. The plant would cost an estimated $240 million without including the sequestering of carbon produced by the plant.
Before the public was invited to speak, a representative from the DEQ said that they are not interested in how many are for and against the proposed power plant, rather they want to make their decision based on whether or not the power plant would meet “air quality standards.”
Limited Support for the Plant
About 100 people attended the public hearing, but only thirty people offered public comments. Of those thirty, only three were in favor of the proposed power plant.
The Mayor of Holland expressed support and stated that the “coal that will be used for the Holland plant is from states out West,” since he wanted to avoid any association with the negative publicity around coal ash pollution generally associated with coal mining in eastern states. The only other supporters were a volunteer for the Holland Board of Public Works and a resident of Holland.
Extensive Opposition to the Plant: Concerns over Pollution Common
A steady stream of Holland residents stepped up to the microphone to express their opposition to the proposed power plant. Many of them expressed concern over pollution, particularly air pollution that will contribute to increased asthma. One woman, who says she suffers from asthma, was convinced that her asthma is a direct result of the existing coal burning power plant based in Holland. A senior citizen who can see the smokestacks from the current power plant says that he and the other senior citizens “are at risk of contracting respiratory problems” because of their proximity to the coal burning plant. Other Holland residents said that renewable energy should be promoted and produced and that the City of Holland should advocate for a reduction of energy consumption by the residents and businesses of the community.
People from other areas of Ottawa County also expressed opposition to the proposed power plant, as well as people who came from Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. A woman with the Dominican Sisters in Grand Rapids was concerned about the carbon emissions and their contribution to global warming. She felt that “there needed to be a radical change to how we produce energy” and that the proposed plant will only contribute to the growing problem. Another woman expressed her opposition to the power plant, said she spoke “as a mother who has breast fed her children”, and believes that the toxins produced from such a power plant would be bad for all children and nursing mothers.
Environmental Groups Voice Opposition
Several speakers during the hearing were from environmental groups throughout the state. One woman from the Ecology Center addressed concerns about asthma and other air pollution concerns. She argued that data shows many people have died from air pollution, others suffer asthma problems, and thousands of work-days have been lost from people being sick due to air pollution generated from coal burning power plants.
Several members of a local chapter of the Earth Institute and the Sierra Club also spoke against the proposed power plant. The State Director of the Sierra Club said that CO2 regulation is the main issue, even though the DEQ does not include CO2 emissions when making determinations about air quality. She said that Governor Granholm has spoken out for reduction of CO2, but that the Climate Action Council, which is making recommendations on this issue, is made up of “too many special interest groups, not scientists.”
Jan O’Connell with the Sierra Club said that the claim from the Holland Board of Public Works that the existing power plant meets current air quality standards isn’t true. She said that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated both Ottawa and Kent Counties as non-attainment sites meaning there are unacceptable levels of air pollution and particulates for those two counties. O’Connell said that the permit should be denied based on the EPA finding.
Indigenous Community Lends Powerful Voice Against the Plant
Possibly the most compelling speakers during the public hearing were from the Native American community. Each of the Native speakers addressed the issue of mercury contamination that comes with coal burning and said that it disproportionately impacts Native people since they eat more local fish–much of which have high levels of mercury in Michigan. Another Native speaker criticized the DEQ for not conducting “an environmental justice assessment” and said that they felt like this was another example of how the government “does care about the well being of native people.” One Native speaker read from a copy of the permit request and read some of the “allowable” chemicals that the proposed coal burning plant would produce. He said that there are four pages consisting solely of chemicals that the proposed power plant would produce and asked, “How can any of these chemicals be good for our children and future generations?”
Opportunity for Further Public Comment
The public can submit comments to the Michigan DEQ up until January 30 on the proposed power plant for Holland.