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Greenwashing Dirty Coal

April 25th, 2008 · No Comments

The Courier\'s \It happened again. The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier had a special “green” tabloid section in their Sunday, April 20 newspaper, with big full-page ad by LS Power. After doing the same thing last year, it appears that Courier is operating in an irony-free zone where “green” and “coal-fired power plant” can mean the same thing.

In case you don’t remember, LS Power is the New Jersey company that wants to build a 750-megawatt coal-burning power plant in Waterloo. For scale, this is nearly 15 times the size of the Cedar Falls Utilities coal-burning power plant. LS Power will ship coal to Waterloo in railcars, burn it, and then sell the power to other states.

Why do they want to build here, and not closer to their energy customers? Because they calculate that small towns with small economies are more likely to say “yes” to jobs and promises of big money. Despite the calculation, there has been a strong grassroots citizen effort by Community Energy Solutions, the Sierra Club, and Plains Justice to halt the plant. LS Power has responded by trying to buy compliance from community leaders.

They have already effectively bought the silence of KBBG last year with the announcement that they would give the African-American owned radio station located near the proposed plant $100,000 if the plant gets built. LS Power also floated the idea of a $400,000 grant to the University of Northern Iowa for the research of biofuels.

The local building trades union long ago pledged to support the project. (Incredibly, the Courier and KWWL, Ch. 7, ran this old news as “breaking news” in late March, right before a zoning hearing. If there was any news here, it was that the plant promises to use nonunion labor as well.)

City of Waterloo politicians are all delighted about the coal-burning plant too, thinking that anything that promises them an $800,000 in annual tax revenue to spend must be good.

Has the Courier‘s ability to critically investigate every part of LS Power’s proposal been diluted, too, by full-page ad buys?LS Power\'s Full-page Ad, April 20, 2008

When it comes to the proposed power plant, the Courier and KWWL have been consistently boosterish. In doing so, they have dropped the ball on having a real discussion about what the future of the Cedar Valley should be, and whether or not the economic benefits of the kind of power plant that is the leading cause of global warming and air and water pollution outweigh the environmental and health disadvantages. Instead, they have covered the “official” story of business development, meetings, and politicians.

If good journalism should be a civic forum that addresses the most important issues a community faces, this isn’t it.

Honestly, though, the full-page ad’s claim in big letters that “It’s Helping the Cedar Valley Go Green,” is about the most outlandish thing imaginable. I’ve seen a lot of lists on helpful hints on how to “go green,” but not one of them suggests building a gargantuan 750-megawatt coal-burning plant.

Which brings me to the “Go Green” tabloid section. Give the Courier credit for helping us thinking about going green.

Yes, we should all change our light bulbs to compact fluorescents (saves 160 pounds of CO2 emissions a year), set the water heater below 120 degrees (900 pounds a year), and recycle household packaging (1,000 pounds a year).

But this individual consumerist model of going green will never encourage citizens to democratically participate in the biggest decisions about the environment, like a public transportation policy, regional planning of development, and public utility energy choices.

So the biggest helpful hint the Courier should have given us in “Go Green” is this: stop a 750-megawatt coal-burning power plant from being built. Saves 6,769,239 tons per year.

That’s right. Almost 7 million tons of CO2 emissions saved a year, according to LS Power’s own data, from their preliminary application to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, that’s the equivalent to annual greenhouse gas emissions from 1,124,714 passenger vehicles a year, or the annual CO2 emissions from the electricity use of 813,371 homes for one year (about two-thirds of all Iowa households).

So, by all means, eat locally grown food (saves 5,000 pounds of greenhouse emissions a year), take the bus to work (1,590 pounds), and wash your clothes in cold water (700 pounds). But if you really want to “Go Green,” do what people are already doing all over the country: stop the construction of a new coal-burning power plant.

Tags: Environment · Journalism · Journalism Ethics · Labor News · Television News

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