September 25, 2013

KITCHELL: Air quality issue up to us this time


---- — Too many times recently, I’ve been told of people I know who have been diagnosed with fatal forms of cancer.

That word strikes fear in all of us, and when it is associated with someone we know, we’re simply left to pray for them, hope for them and wonder if enough is being done to give people who have it hope.

Collectively as a country, we’ve done things governmentally to reduce our cancer risks. From the Surgeon General’s warnings for decades on cigarette packs to mammograms covered by insurance to new proposed federal guidelines that will bolster limits on the amount of emissions going into the skies above us, the trend of prevention is encouraging. Even in Indiana, smoking is banned in most public places.

But at a time when progress is being made to prevent harmful substances from threatening our health, the possibility looms in Logansport and Cass County that greater emissions will soon be filling our skies. I’m talking about the emissions that will be coming from a proposed power plant in Logansport. It’s the reason why a physician from southern Indiana came to Logansport this week to meet with local doctors about the opposition to a waste-to-energy facility in Indiana that has doctors there concerned about its impact on the health of their patients.

Earlier this year, a Canadian proponent of the power plant proposed by the city of Logansport wrote a Public Forum letter to the Pharos-Tribune, assuring us in part that the plant would have to comply with local, state and federal environmental guidelines. That part of his letter in particular was unusually curious if not alarming because Logansport and Cass County have no air quality regulations. His assurance offered only a false sense of security tantamount to saying that the law of gravity is backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission, the U.S. Marines, the Federal Reserve and the Supreme Court. It may sound impressive, but it means nothing because there is no connection.

When it comes to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, enforcing guidelines also is a disturbing thing. Case in point: Just three months ago, the Chicago Tribune reported that Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., was among public officials warning of IDEM’s proposed rules to allow a refinery in Whiting, Ind., to dump 20 times the normal level of mercury to be dumped into Lake Michigan. Even as federal guidelines for power plants are designed to limit mercury in our environment, IDEM appeared to look the other way and shirk its responsibility not just to the citizens of Indiana, but to those of Illinois and Michigan who fish or boat on Lake Michigan, and more significantly, swim in it and eat fish from it.

Federal air quality guidelines enforced by the EPA only involve a limited number of tests over time that allow companies generating the emissions to have a heads up that the Feds are coming well in advance. That allows even the worst polluters a chance to scale back the amount of emissions that are generated to meet federal guidelines.

What all this means is that if anyone is going to do anything to assure Logansport and Cass County have decent air to breathe that doesn’t dump harmful chemicals into our water table, it’s up to us to make it happen at the local level. We have to be the people enforcing the standards. It’s to that end that the Cass County commissioners have been presented proposals for monitoring air quality. These are important proposals because the amount of waste materials being proposed for this power plant is considerable – and it may just be the start if operators are allowed to expand the plant to produce surplus power so that they don’t lose money through a still to be announced deal with the city.

Here’s a disturbing thought: What if 10 years from now we’ll be living in a time when Indianapolis will have cleaner air than Logansport thanks to a natural gas electric plant being built there now at considerably less cost than the plant being proposed here? Who will the public officials be that future generations can thank – or blame – for allowing that to happen?

This isn’t about protecting our public coffers with money from a power plant. It’s about preventing some of our current public officials from spawning a generation of public coughers who will fall victim to a publicly funded venture, the likes of which are opposed by the American Lung Association.

If the Cass County commissioners can stand together for any reason, they ought to be able to stand together now and keep this process honest. If they don’t, no one will.

Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at