Norfolk could be on the verge of becoming the fourth Hampton Roads locality to officially oppose the largest coal fired power plant ever proposed in Virginia. It appears, however, that a few strange events occurred in the last couple weeks that kept it from coming to a vote and could potentially make the resolution of opposition language weak or not happen at all.
Members of the public, several Norfolk City Council members and I, were under the impression (based on discussion at the previous meeting) that the council was going to vote whether or not to adopt a resolution of opposition during their most recent, April 10th, council meeting.
For some reason, that isn’t what happened.
The resolution made it onto the agenda for discussion but through an apparent miscommunication or misunderstanding it didn’t make it onto the agenda for an actual vote. This was quite a disappointment to the council members and Norfolk citizens who had been hoping to see it voted on this week.
You can see the discussion and frustration over the delay yourself in the YouTube video below of Tuesday’s meeting. Watch as long as you like but I think you’ll get the point in the first five minutes, or by minute 47.
During the discussion it was also revealed that the chairman of Norfolk Southern called the city on Monday and asked to be able to review the resolution and to provide comments on it. (For clarity’s sake, I should point out that the agenda was printed on Friday.) Given the delay and Norfolk Southern’s sudden interest in the city council’s actions, there is now a chance that the support for a resolution of opposition could be eroded by corporate interests. It is no secret that the rail line that would service the coal plant should it ever get built, is owned by Norfolk Southern and that the corporation has a financial interest in seeing the project go forward.
I found it troubling to hear reports that the presentation on the coal plant from staff was watered down at this full council meeting as compared to the presentation from staff to the Health, Education and Family two weeks earlier. You can view the most recent presentation here if you’d like. While I completely understand that staff must remain impartial and that their job is to leave it up to council to make the decision, I don’t think that impartiality means leaving out relevant and pertinent facts. I was disappointed that the presenter skipped over the fact that the town of Surry (the seat of Surry County) passed a unanimous resolution against the plant yet she pointed out that the resolutions passed by Isle of Wight and Southampton County were not unanimous. She also failed to mention the one study that used EPA methodologies to look at potential health affects which concluded that pollution from the coal plant would adversely affect the health of downwind residents. I think the council would want to know that the damage every year would include an estimated 16 cases of chronic bronchitis, 23 asthma-related emergency room visits, 26 premature deaths, 40 heart attacks, 442 asthma attacks, 3,340 lost work days, and 19,903 days in which people will have to reduce their activities because they are sick. One third of these health problems would be in Virginia, with the rest spread across the mid-Atlantic region. The total cost to society of these illnesses and deaths would be about $208 million a year—or more than $6 billion over a generation (30 years). For more information on the coal plant click here.
Also curious was the fact that at the previous meeting in late March, only one resolution had been discussed -an outright resolution of opposition to be presented for an up or down vote at the early April meeting. Without the consent or knowledge of the full city council, staff was directed to write two resolutions, one an outright resolution of opposition to the coal plant and the other a weaker letter expressing only concern and stating that the city would monitor the situation.
While the reason for the delay and for the drafting of this second, weaker, resolution isn’t clear these events allow Norfolk Southern and the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) additional time to weigh in and encourage the council to pass a weaker resolution or no resolution at all. We need to make sure that no council member gets the interests of their “corporate citizens” and their actual citizens confused. After all, the operations of a large corporation like Norfolk Southern can survive worsening air quality while, on the other hand, the living and breathing citizens of Norfolk and Hampton Roads have real lung tissue that can get damaged on “Code-Red” air days and real asthmatics and sufferers of COPD that can actually experience shorter lives as a result of living downwind of a coal plant.
I think the majority of the council is on the right track, but to keep them there it is more important than ever that many more Norfolk residents let their City Council know that they fully support an official resolution of opposition.
The vote will occur a the April 24th Norfolk City Council Meeting starting at 7:00 PM. If you are a Norfolk resident and want to attend and speak (which I highly encourage you to do) you should get there by 6:45 to sign up with the clerk. In the mean time, you can click here to send a letter to all the council members, and mayor. Grassroots, citizen pressure is the best tool in overcoming the interests of powerful corporations like Norfolk Southern and utilities like ODEC. Letters from citizens are one of the most powerful tools in swaying council member’s votes.
We must make sure that the council feels the support of all Norfolk citizens in opposing this coal plant that would be so detrimental to the health of all Hampton Roads residents.