Don’t need no stinkin’ coal plant

The snow cleanses the landscape, frosts trees, adds soft contrasts to Peavine Mountain. I’m driving down Los Altos to Vista Boulevard in Sparks. As I round a bend, downtown Reno comes into view. Set against the background of fresh white powder, the city air can be seen for what it is—a dull, hazy yellow.

We breathe that air. And it’s not as bad as it could be. It’s not as bad as it will be if we continue to go about our happy, ignorant existence, not considering what will happen if a gigantic coal-fired power plant is built in Washoe County.

“America is addicted to oil,” said the Prez, during the State of the Union.

For a split second, I was hopeful.

Bush’s 2007 budget gives a $148 million nod to solar energy and makes a $44 million investment in wind energy development. That’s cause for celebration. But at the top of his list is what’s been called a coal industry hand-out, some $281 million for supposed “clean coal” technologies and $54 million for more gasification research. (Gasification is that emission-free coal-burning technology that ran into a bit of trouble right here at the Pinion Pine Power Plant in Tracy. Gasification seems a potentially viable but not yet reliable concept that deserves funding but certainly doesn’t solve other problems like the devastating environmental effects of coal mining.)

Coal makes a smudged sort of sense. As Bush reminds us, America has enough chunks of black graphite-like material to keep millions of HDTV sets and air conditioners juiced up for another 200 years.

That’s reassuring to those of us who are, indeed, addicted to power.

No worries about the lights going out. But we might want to worry about the atmosphere, about the fertilizing effects of acid rain on growing things, about the impact of mercury on the fish in Pyramid Lake, the Truckee River and Lake Tahoe and, ultimately, on pregnant women and small children.

If you swim, jog, hike or enjoy breathing air that’s not contaminated by sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and particulates, all of which are emitted by the ton from even so-called “clean” coal plants, this matters.

Sempra Generation proposes to build the Granite Fox plant, a 12,000-megawatt behemoth, here in our own Smoke Creek Desert, not far from Pyramid Lake.

Los Angeles gets the lion’s share of power. We get the endless succession of dusty coal-laden trains toting an estimated 6 million tons of coal here annually—around 16,500 tons daily. Granite Fox’s proposed 452-foot stack will pump emissions high enough to carry pollution to places like Reno, Tahoe, the Sierra and beyond.

A consulting engineer hired by opponents to the Granite Fox project estimated that the plant would produce annually 4,400 tons of nitrogen oxide, 2,500 tons of sulfur dioxide, 1,100 tons of particulate matter, 490 tons of volatile organic compounds and, oh yeah, 100 tons of sulfuric acid. (More at NevadaClean

When the air in the Truckee Meadows turns to viscous brown soup, we’ll be stunned and amazed. How did this happen? Huh.

But wait, there’s more. Coal produces more of the naughty global warming agent, carbon dioxide, than any other fossil fuel. We place no limits on the amount of CO2 a coal plant can snort out all day, every day.

Hello melting polar icecaps, ta-ta shorelines.

Who stands between the people and the Fortune 500 corporation that wants to plant its plant here? One of the entities that must approve the plant is the Washoe County Commission, three members of which are up for reelection this year.

Let’s push our representatives to tell us how they’ll vote when Sempra’s on the agenda. Then we can donate, campaign and vote accordingly.