DETROIT -- So-called “clean coal” was a major topic of discussion for a panel sponsored by the Michigan Democratic Party Environmental and Energy Caucus at the party’s winter convention at Cobo Hall Saturday.
The panel featured Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D- Huntington Woods, Rep. Jon Switalski, D-Warren, a member of the House Energy and Technology Committee, and Cyndi Roper, State Director of Michigan Clean Water Action. News that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) approved the construction of a new 78 megawatt coal-fired power plant planned by the Holland Board of Public Works broke late Friday that environmentalist had been fighting.
Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm put out an executive order last year requiring the Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC) to consider the need for new power or it could not be generated by a renewable source as a new requirement for granting a permit for a new coal plant, and that led them to reject the permit. However, a Circuit Court judge ruled that the PSC could not take need into account when considering a permit and the Snyder Administration issued the permit.
Clean coal has been a buzz word the last couple of years, but the fact is there is no such thing. Burning coal is a leading cause of smog, acid rain, global warming and air toxics.
“This idea of clean coal; my kids are like, what’s clean about coal,” Roper said. “It maybe cleaner, but it’s not a clean industry.”Despite all the Democrats in the room, Roper was critical of House Democrats and their jobs plan that included the building of the two coal-fired power plants.
She said because not an ounce of coal is mined in Michigan, millions of dollars fly out of Michigan at the expense of clean and renewable energy jobs, which is the fastest growing segment of Michigan jobs. In fact, a new power plant would lock Michiganders into sending money out of state to import more than $9 billion worth of coal for the next 50 years.
A coalition of Michigan environmental groups criticized the plan last month, calling the decision short-sighted when Michigan is positioned to attract tens of thousands of new clean energy jobs – on top of the 109,000 we already have.
In their defense, the House Democrats in the room said they were allowed to voice their disagreement with that portion of the plan that included the Hire Michigan First plan and building the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bridge.
“We have lost our biggest cheerleader for clean energy,” Roper said. “Fortunately, the Senate Dems have not given cover to Snyder’s plan to build coal plants.”The restively new topic of “Fracking” was also discussed.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process that can be used to retrieve natural gas. It involves injecting chemicals, sand, and millions of gallons of water into shale rock. The shale is then shattered, releasing trapped gas. The problem is that when the gas comes to the surface, some water returns as well, and this water is often tainted with poisonous, carcinogenic chemicals.
Recently located natural gas reserves in the northern Lower Peninsula have led to a flurry of fracking. However, gas production companies are not required to disclose the chemicals they pump into the ground unless there is an accident, but an accident in Benzie County should change that.
“For the first time ever, we will be learning what chemicals are being injected into the ground,” Roper said. “We expect we will have to FOIA it, and Halliburton is the biggest obstacle to disclosure.”