Written at SFSU in 2017
The United States is a powerhouse when it comes to coal generated power. About 65% of the power we generate comes from fossil fuels.The Gibson Generating Station located in Indiana is just one of the many coal based power generating sites that contribute to these statistics. Built as a two unit coal fired power plant in 1972, it continued to grow into the 90’s when it finally became a five unit site.
In this article I will illustrate the energy injustice happening in the area surrounding the Gibson Generating Station and the connection to the resource curse theory.
Located near several watersheds and rivers, the ecological effects of this station is far-reaching. The effects of the pollution emitted by the Generating station can be seen through the increased health risks of the citizens of nearby towns.
- Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) emitted from the generating station creates airborne particulates which can harm human lungs. Moreover this chemical contributes to the rise of acidity in the rain which harms the local vegetation.
- Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) emitted from the generating station is the cause of smog which can cause symptoms of asthma.
- Mercury in small quantities can cause severe damage to the body’s nervous system and brain.
- Contributes greatly to climate change.
Who is affected
The Gibson power station is not located in an isolated area. Less than 10 miles away is the town Evansville. In fact, in a 2005 study Indiana was placed second in this nation with the highest health risk per capita due to industrial pollutants . The people who live in this area may not have the means or the willingness to leave. Now the question is why to people choose to live here?
The resource curse theory is the phenomena when a country or area rich in non-renewable resources are struck with economical stagnation or decrease. This can be linked to the area focusing too much on the single industry (coal, oil, etc.) and neglecting other sectors which can foster true economic growth. This lack of balance creates a scenario where the citizens of the area depend too much on the singular industry. In the case of the Gibson Generating Station this is coal power.
There are many negative effects living in an area rich in resource, but there are also aspects that appear to be beneficial. People tend to live in these areas because there are well paying jobs with low entry levels of experience required. The starting wage for a plant worker in the area average around $20/hour and has been recorded to raise to about $45/hour. In contrast to the minimum wage in Indiana being $7.25, seems to be a good place to work. With the higher than average wages, the Gibson Generating station creates loyalty among the people it impacts negatively the most.
Within the population of people impacted by the pollution, there is a group of people impacted the most. The population of Evansville consists of 82% White and 12% Black . The most polluted parts of town are populated by a majority Black being about 79% of the community that is impacted most by the air pollution. It is reported that the people in this area suffer from a staggering amount of lung related disease in comparison to areas that are lesser affected.
The Gibson Generating Station is only one of several stations in a 30 mile radius of Evansville. Each of these stations generate a high magnitude of pollutants, which combined create some of the worst air quality in the United States. The effects can be seen from the statistics of citizens in the area that suffer from respiratory issues compared to citizens living in areas that do no have coal burning power stations. The pro coal lobbyists propagate themselves on providing jobs at the expense of public health and environmental destruction. The injustice here is that the people living in these towns have little choice in the matter. The switch to green energy is a slow process because of the upfront costs. It is difficult to gain funding for building green energy infrastructure when many jobs are connected to fossil fuels. Loyalty from people who are highest at risk of suffering from pollution derived illnesses. And loyalty of the generations that follow.
“Coal Power: Air Pollution.” Union of Concerned Scientists, http://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/coal-air-pollution#.WeeUgmhSyUl.
Wilson, M. (2005) Vanderburgh ranks 89th worst among all counties in America. http://www.indianaeconomicdigest.net/main.asp?SectionID=31&subsectionID=235&articleID=23460
“Population Estimates”. United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2014-05-22. Retrieved 2014-10-21.
“U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis.” What Is U.S. Electricity Generation by Energy Source? – FAQ – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3.
“Gibson Generating Station.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Oct. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gibson_Generating_Station.
Hopkins, J. (2016) Meet America’s super polluters. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/09/29/toxic-air-pollution-concentrated-small-number-sites/90846584/