Acid Reign

by Michael W. Stowell

September 22, 2003


In 1972, I purchased a brand new Triumph Spitfire, the only new car I have ever owned. In those days, gas prices were around twenty-nine cents a gallon and my beautiful little sports car got between twenty-five and thirty miles to the gallon. I could drive around all week on two bucks worth of gas, but I never drove the car to work. No one at the power plant where I worked ever drove good cars to work; the emissions from the plant would eat the paint off anything in the parking lot.

It was a coal-fired plant located in Wisconsin. In my first job there, I unloaded coal from rail cars, up to 800 tons each day during the winter, so I know that unloading coal is not easy when the temperature is minus 20 degrees F. Later, I worked in the boiler rooms where temperatures seldom dropped below 100 degrees F and the humidity was all but unbearable. So I understand how hard the work is in coal-fired power plants and I'll never forget the stinging mist we worked in, the coal dust, or the ash.

More than thirty years later, on September 15, 2003, George W. Bush visited a coal-fired power plant in Monroe, Michigan, a state where nearly half the electricity is generated by coal-fired plants. I hope he parked down the street, up wind.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Detroit Edison-owned Monroe power plant is the eighth largest emitter of sulfur dioxide in the country, the second largest coal-fired power plant in the country, and one of the dirtiest. Its four units belched 102,747 tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere during the last year tallied, 2001, and a total of 1,341,231.1 tons of sulfur dioxide during the period between 1980 and 2001. Sulfur dioxide's precipitation, acid rain, eats paint, trees, fish, lung tissue, and practically everything else it contacts, including Triumph Spitfires.

Bush was in Monroe because folks in Michigan have lost more than 160,000 jobs since he assumed the presidency. Since taking office, it was his eleventh visit to the state, which he lost to Al Gore in the last election; a state that will be pivotal in the next election, which will be smoggier than ever if Bush has his way.

This whistle-stop was a classic example of "smoke and mirrors" campaigning for another four years of acidic reign.

After touring the plant, Bush told several hundred workers that in his administration, "we not only talk about clean air, we talk about jobs." The folks working at the Monroe plant were not to be concerned about the plant closing; there is plenty of demand for electricity and plenty of coal to burn. Nor should there be any concerns about Bush's 'cleaner air' policies, we can't afford cleaner air right now, anyway.

Bush chose to visit the Monroe plant because they are planning to replace a couple of old steam turbines with two units that are more efficient. Running the new turbines will not increase emissions at the plant, in fact, units that are more efficient will generate more power at the same emissions level. Therein lies the reason for the visit: Detroit Edison is more concerned about generating more electricity and more profits than in lowering its emissions to meet EPA standards, and George W. Bush is damn well pleased to agree with them. In fact, he was there to tell them, another 30,000 tons of sulfur dioxide each year wouldn't hurt either.

Forget the EPA's rules; in Bush's mind they are unreasonable and unworkable, no reason to abide by them. Instead, George wants passage of his "Clear Skies" initiative, a plan that resembles a card game we used to play after work called 'sheepshead.' The goal in this game is to cut emissions from all power plants by 70 percent by 2018, but those standards won't be applied uniformly because operators may trade "pollution credits," the right to pollute, among themselves.

Trump cards, if you will.

Now I realize that coal-fired plants pollute less than they did thirty years ago when I worked in one, but demand for electricity has grown 130 percent in the past 30 years and is expected to grow another 40 percent by 2020. Coal use has gone up 188 percent in the same 30 years. In Michigan alone, the air quality in twenty-two counties is unhealthy.

Instead of spending 200 or 300 or 400 billion dollars on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, wars to protect the Bush regime's energy investments, why aren't we using some of that money to develop alternative, renewable energy production? The demand is so great and the challenge so daunting, I'm sure more jobs would be created, cleaner, safer, more honorable jobs with a greater sense of purpose.

George W. Bush has never fired a steam generator, never engineered a turbine, never shoveled coal and never pulled ash. He doesn't care about the workers in Monroe, Michigan or their children. He's not interested in their health or the quality of their lives. He couldn't care less about their surroundings, the fish in those rivers, the leaves on the trees, or the hair on their heads.

His only concern is with his reign.

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Resources and Related Internal Links

Bush Defends New Environmental Rules, The New York Times, 9/16/03:

Clean Air Markets, Data and Maps, Environmental Protection Agency:

President Visits Detroit Edison Monroe Power Plant in Monroe, Michigan,
9/15/03: http://daily.misleader.org/ctt.asp?u=1286328&l=5333

EPA Letter to Detroit Edison Counsel, 5/23/00:

Bush Defends New Environmental Rules, The New York Times, 9/16/03:

Bush links clean air rules to jobs, The Detroit News, 9/16/03:

States to Fight Easing of Rules on Pollution by Power Plants, The New York Times, 8/29/03, p. B1; Natural Resources Defense Council:

America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Michael W. Stowell is a local activist in Northern California.

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Published September 22, 2003
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