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Fact Sheet 14
What´s Wrong With Power Plants?

They are not sustainable

Power plants use fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, which are finite in supply. These fuels cause a variety of health and environmental problems and are not a long-term solution to energy needs. As these fuels become harder to find, prices will rise and political problems associated with market manipulation from domestic and overseas sources will only increase.

Water pollution

Power plants use water for cooling - up to a billion gallons each day! As this water is discharged back to the river, thermal (heat) pollution occurs. This plume of warmer water can create ice-free pockets in winter, which can attract and then trap many species when the flow slows or stops. In summer, the hot water can add to eutrophication (oxygen-deficiency) in the river, choking fish and aquatic life. Heavy metals and chlorine in cooling water discharges are also having a negative effect on river life.

Fish kills

The Hudson River is an estuarine nursery for many ocean fish species. There are millions of tiny fish eggs, larvae, and very young fish essentially adrift in the water, and hence extremely vulnerable to power plant cooling water intakes. These small animals are often killed by the passage through a plant´s cooling system. In certain species, reports document up to 60% mortality in a given year´s newborn fish stock due to power plants. Adult fish are also trapped and pinned to intake screens by the force of the suction.

Air pollution

Power plants burn fossil fuels. Coal-fired plants, even with the most modern technology using low-sulfur coal, are the single most significant source of acid rain, which has left hundreds of lakes across New York and New England unable to sustain life. Acid rain is also causing profound changes in forest ecology. Nitrogen oxides (NOx) from power plants vie with automobiles as the leading causes of smog, which affects the health of millions of people. Power plants emit mercury, a neurotoxin that is now found in all our waterways, as well as millions of tons of carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas and contributor to global climate change. These plants also emit arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, and nickel.

Impacts on scenic, historic and cultural resources

Power plants are massive industrial complexes, with buildings, stacks, and other structures on a scale that often dwarfs everything nearby. Because of this, power plants can be seen from far away, and they can irreparably harm viewsheds that are highly valued by society. Nearby homes and sites of historic significance are devalued because of the plant´s inappropriate size, use, and architecture. Cooling tower plumes, while only water vapor, create yet another visual impact that many communities find troubling.

New power plants continue the cycles of fossil fuel dependency and rising electricity demand, making the problem worse, not better

Each new power plant makes more power available to the marketplace - power that is artificially cheap because environmental, health, and infrastructure costs are not accounted for in the price of the fuel. Society picks up the tab for all these costs, called `externalities.´ All too often, these externalities include, and will continue to include, overseas conflict with oil-rich nations. As long as energy is readily available from fossil fuels, society has few incentives to conserve or to find more sustainable substitutes. Feeding short-term demand by increasing fossil fuel power production does not provide a long-term solution. Conservation, energy efficiency increases, and development of renewable power sources are the only real ways to break our unsustainable energy consumption and production cycles.

The current power plant siting process is not protecting communities or the environment

No new power plant is going to be accepted by every member of a host community, and there will always be some opposition. But developers and their allies dismiss the legitimate concerns of local residents with accusations of `NIMBY´-ism (Not In My Backyard), raising larger-scale policy concerns associated with plant siting.

Too often, plants are sited in poor communities, or communities of color. Plants need cooling water, and the Hudson River is facing a very disproportionate share of the permit applications because of its proximity to New York City. Old industrial sites - preferably outdated, dirty power plants - should always be the site of choice over a `greenfield´ - a site that is in its natural condition. The universe of community concerns, including environmental and health-related issues, must never be dismissed without an extremely compelling case for power need. Current Article X siting laws do not require any demonstration of need. Siting laws also override community development designs and planning, and do not require an environmental impact statement.

Secondary effects from pipelines, power lines, development, and extraction

Many of the Hudson River sites in permit review today cannot deliver their power to New York City, where it is most needed. Hence, it is widely expected that where power plants go, high-voltage power lines will soon follow, marching unopposed across the landscape with the right of eminent domain. Natural gas pipelines, and increasingly, port facilities will have to be built to serve the new generation of clean-burning combined-cycle gas turbines. And where both gas and electricity become available, development follows, leading regional planners to become concerned about new corridors of development and sprawl. Finally, in considering the `life-cycle´ impacts of fossil fuel use, one must also acknowledge the profound environmental, health and social effects of fossil fuel extraction, from wells to pipelines to refineries.

Nuclear power is NOT the solution!

Nuclear power has proven to be an extremely expensive technology with serious health and environmental concerns. Nuclear facilities have regular releases of low-level radiation, which is believed by some experts to cause significant health problems. Hudson Valley residents should be concerned about the possibility of catastrophic accident and the lack of viable evacuation plans for the Indian Point reactors. Finally, there is no safe way to store nuclear wastes, which can remain dangerous for thousands of years.

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