Environmentalists protest ‘Sooty Six’ plants

Four hundred deaths per year, childhood asthma attacks, climate change and mercury contaminated fish. These are some of the charges that have been brought against Connecticut’s “Sooty Six” power plants by state environmentalists.

On Friday Nov. 16, New Haven for Clean Air, a coalition of Yale Green Corps, grassroots environmental groups and community members, threw a mock birthday party for the New Haven Harbor power plant. The demonstration was aimed at reminding the public of legislation, expected to be reviewed by the state’s General Assembly early next year, that would force the power plants to clean up.

The 42-year-old New Haven facility is one of six state plants that are between 30-45 years old. Nicknamed the “Sooty Six,” the plants are not required to meet the same air pollution standards as newer power plants since they were in existence prior to the 1977 Clean Air Act.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who attended the event, stressed the importance of public education in regard to the plants and corresponding health issues.

“One of the things we increasingly worry about is public health,” DeStefano said. “We understand we are an urban center, and as an urban center we have chosen to do certain things. But that does not mean we have to compromise how we have to live.”

The Sooty Six, located in Bridgeport, New Haven, Middletown, Norwalk, Montville and Milford, are thermal power stations that burn fossil fuels. According to an Environmental Protection Agency report, the six plants account for 82 percent of all sulfur dioxide and 23.6 percent of all carbon dioxide produced in the state.

Protesters claim that the consequences of this pollution include increased incidences of asthma among children and the elderly and premature death. According to the EPA, 97 percent of Connecticut residents breathe very unhealthy air.

“We are here to underscore how old these dirty power plants are, and that given that they are still operating, they must come up to modern emission standards,” said Brooke Suter, Connecticut’s program director for Clean Water Action. “It is unfair that these power plants operate under this big loophole at the expense of citizens’ health.”

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection recently issued regulations addressing the Sooty Six pollution. The regulations involve pollution trading, which involves the government’s setting limits on the amount of pollution permitted. The government then allocates permits to individual firms, which can be traded among the firms for money.

This year, the Connecticut legislature passed a law to clean up the Sooty Six, but Gov. John G. Rowland vetoed the bill. Rowland said the bill was imperfect and that regulations enacted by his administration have demanded the reduction of emissions.

NRG Energy Inc. spokeswoman Meredith Moore said that the plants owned by the company, which include the Middletown plant, fully comply with federal and state regulations and that NRG was proud of its efforts to improve local and regional air quality.

But Judith Joffe-Block ’04, head of the Yale Green Corps and an organizer of the event, said more needs to be done in terms of public awareness.

“The point of these birthday party rallies in the Sooty Six cities is to get the message out to Gov. Rowland that the residents of these affected cities are outraged by his decision last spring to veto legislation that would have cleaned up these plants,” she said.

Joffe-Block said Middletown had a birthday party for their plant on Nov. 12 , followed by the Milford plant on Nov. 16, and the Bridgeport site on Nov. 17.

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