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Ohio Coal Plant Linked to $30m in Annual Economic Damage

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This post was co-written by Nachy Kanfer, Associate Field Organizer for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign in Ohio.

We regularly dispute Big Coal when they say coal is not bad for the environment - now we have another example of how this dirty, outdated power source is costing jobs and damaging the economy in one state.

The Sierra Club just co-released a report showing that the Bay Shore coal-fired power plant in Oregon, Ohio, causes nearly $30 million in damages to the state's economy every year.

The report, produced by Genter Consulting and co-released by the Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association, Ohio Citizen Action, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Ohio Environmental Council, the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, and the Ohio Division of the Izaak Walton League of America, shows that this massive economic damage is caused by the plant's antiquated cooling system.

The Bay Shore facility lacks cooling towers, which means that every day it has to draw over 650 million gallons of fresh water. In the summertime, that requires the plant to suck in the entire Maumee River! The water is then spit back into Lake Erie, 5-12 degrees Fahrenheit warmer, and with 126,000 fewer fish every day. This destroys fish populations in Lake Erie that would otherwise be used by Ohioans for recreation or commercial sale.

The conservative $29.7 million estimate was for damage to fish only, and did not include estimates of damage from other uses such as hunting or bird-watching, both of which contribute to the state's economy as well. The study used FirstEnergy's (operator of the Bay Shore plant) own numbers for how many fish are killed.

The report methodically demonstrates a central necessity: the installation of cooling towers at the Bay Shore plant, which would reduce fish kills by 95 percent.

"We now know that the estimated $100 million cost of installing cooling towers is economically justified by the annual $29.7 million economic loss from the fish kills," said Sandy Bihn, a member of the Oregon City Council and Executive Director of the Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association.

"Ohio's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs to require Bay Shore to install cooling towers to reduce the millions of fish - and billions of larval fish - killed each year."

This report also comes as the Ohio EPA reviews its draft of a wastewater discharge renewal permit for the Bay Shore facility - which we are urging them to reject.

Commercial fishermen, sport anglers, and recreational boaters in the Toledo area are taking the lead on this issue, saying the coal plant's destruction of fish populations for cooling purposes robs them of their livelihoods.

"I have lived and worked within one half mile of the Bay Shore plant starting 17 years before it was built in 1951, and ever since," said Frank Reynolds, a local resident and commercial fisherman. "The Bay Shore power plant has killed fish and degraded the Maumee Bay waters, spawning grounds, nursery and general food supply."

Ultimately, of course, the best way to preserve the livelihoods of those who rely on fishing in Lake Erie - and the best way to clean the lake and strengthen the economy of northwest Ohio - is to stop burning coal at the Bay Shore plant.

It's not just a problem of fish - though that would be bad enough. The Bay Shore plant, along with three other FirstEnergy-owned plants along the shore of Lake Erie, is also under a Notice of Violation from the United States Environmental Protection Agency for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. Bay Shore has no modern pollution controls and contributes to Ohio's chronic conditions of poor air quality, through heavy emissions of dangerous soot, smog and mercury.

Coal has no place in Ohio's energy future. In recent weeks, as the BP oil disaster unfolds off the Gulf Coast, we have all felt a keen sense of solidarity with those whose livelihoods - and lives - have been ruined by our nation's addiction to oil. The problem, in a nutshell, is dirty energy. Whether it's oil on the Gulf Coast or coal in Ohio, we have learned that dirty energy is simply incompatible with clean water, our nation's crucial fishing and tourism industries, and a strong, robust economy.

BONUS NEWS: We'll end with some good news that just came down from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Today EPA announced a new strong standard for sulfur dioxide, one of the major pollutants that burning coal spews forth into our air. This new EPA standard will reduce acid rain, soot and smog pollution.