Vetting and Balance

A reader is concerned that the environmental movement is out of control.

His comment relates to an American Rivers news release that listed the nation's Most Endangered Rivers.

Two points are at issue: The release says plans to develop a coal power plant could rob the Minnesota River of 6 million gallons of water per day and that water conservation is not a priority for the St. Johns River Water Management District or the state of Florida.

An engineer, the reader explained that 6 million gallons per day is not a great deal of water, and the release does not say what amount of water is returned to the river. As far St. Johns River goes, he said that there are six water management districts in Florida whose sole purpose is watershed and water protection. He acknowledged that South Florida has a water supply problem but that authorities are actively seeking solutions.

Is American Rivers looking at the rivers as half empty and the engineer seeing them half full? I think so.

The engineer's question to me was: Is there vetting of articles and opinion for balance? I would answer yes, there is some. Generally, I try to qualify outlandish statements and give credit where credit is due. But the real balance comes in the mix of many perspectives over the course of time.

I think American Rivers wants to spur action to get the rivers clean. The group uses language that tends to trigger emotion (from their Web site: But the river is threatened by a water withdrawal proposal that would cost taxpayers billions, fuel more runaway sprawl, and damage the river’s ecology.) The engineer may have the same agenda or not. But he prefers to deal with precise facts and the whole story.

OK, enough vetting (or venting) for now.


I had to comment on this one! I would rejoice at the thought that the movement is "out of control." Then we might have a chance at stopping the pollution, consumption, deforestation, CO2 emissions, etc. that are what's REALLY out of control. There is lots of solid science behind the view that we need to ramp up our efforts and pronto if we are to live out our lives without weather disasters, food shortages, energy scarcity and so on taking their toll. Nevermind our children.

I assume you are playing devil's advocate, and simply passing along readers' concerns and comments. I hope you will do even more to educate your readers about what needs to be done.


Margie Campaigne

Coal plants are the worst offenders of pollution, not only do they discharge huge amounts of thermal pollution, but they also create pollution from runoff from the coal, the mining of the coal, and the gas effluents are never that clean.

Below is what a 500-megawatt (MW) emits. We are talking about a plant that releases three times this amount.

Wow, an engineer saying that 6 MGD is not a lot of water? Try swallowing it, or perhaps we could discharge it on a town or in your house!

It is time to look at alternatives: for example, Florida has a lot of sludge from many wastewater plants, and more are coming on line. Many companies out there currently sell technology that will turn this waste from wastewater plants -- the sludge directly into electricity. In addition, Florida has wind power, ocean power, hydroelecric possibilities, and plenty of sunshine! Solar power has not even been exploited. Then of course, there is methane gas created by the digestors in wastewater plants and animal farms.

There are plenty of options, but of course, that requires leaders with actual brains. And engineers that have initiative and lead rather than blindly post excuses for management to continue to pollute with archaic polluting technology.

Perhaps the job of engineers should be (in the future) to personally pollinate all the flowers of the world with feather dusters, as they have helped make enough toxins to kill off plenty of bumble bees.

Waste created by a typical 500 MW coal plant includes more than 125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge from the smokestack scrubber each year. Nationally, more than 75 percent of this waste is disposed of in unlined, unmonitored onsite landfills and surface impoundments.

Toxic substances in the waste -- including arsenic, mercury, chromium, and cadmium -- can contaminate drinking water supplies and damage vital human organs and the nervous system. One study found that one out of every 100 children who drink groundwater contaminated with arsenic from coal power plant wastes were at risk of developing cancer. Ecosystems, too, have been damaged -- sometimes severely or permanently -- by the disposal of coal plant waste.

Once the 2.2 billion gallons of water have cycled through the coal-fired power plant, they are released back into the lake, river, or ocean. This water is hotter (by up to 20-25° F) than the water that receives it. This "thermal pollution" can decrease fertility and increase heart rates in fish. Typically, power plants also add chlorine or other toxic chemicals to their cooling water to decrease algae growth. These chemicals are also discharged back into the environment.

Much of the heat produced from burning coal is wasted. A typical coal power plant uses only 33-35% of the coal's heat to produce electricity. The majority of the heat is released into the atmosphere or absorbed by the cooling water.

Lidia LoPinto

Posted by L.K. Williams, EPonline on May 13, 2008

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