Mary Landrieu’s Brave Battle With Reality

Sen. Mary Landrieu is a Democrat but she knows quite well what her base is. You don’t get elected from either party in Louisiana if you piss off the oil and gas interests that control that state, which is why she’s holding a press conference to protest the EPA’s new rules on power plant emissions at one of the nation’s dirtiest coal plants.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is scheduled to hold an event at her state’s biggest coal-fired power plant on Monday, in a move designed to highlight her opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s new proposed limits on carbon pollution from coal plants.

Problem is, the coal plant she’s highlighting — the Big Cajun 2 power plant in New Roads, La. — is one of the nation’s dirtiest, most known for being the subject a high-profile U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit over its toxic emissions. What’s more, the CEO of the company that owns the plant recently said he believes that EPA should be regulating carbon pollution from coal plants, perplexing some as to why she chose to put a spotlight on that plant….

The 1489-megawatt plant is also one of the nation’s dirtiest, according to an Environment America report. Out of more than 600 plants in the U.S., Big Cajun 2 is currently the 20th-largest carbon polluter, the report said. The plant emitted 13.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2011 — the same as the emissions from 2.75 million cars, the report said.

Emissions from the Big Cajun 2 have also caused myriad health problems in the communities that surround it. A study commissioned by the nonprofit Clean Air Task Force estimated that fine particle pollution from the Big Cajun 2 plant in 2012 caused 23 deaths, 32 heart attacks, 410 asthma attacks, and 14 cases of chronic bronchitis — health impacts monetized at about $180 million.

Health problems and emissions have likely decreased since 2011, if only because of a $250 million settlement agreement NRG entered into with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2012. That settlement ended the DOJ’s 2009 lawsuit accusing Big Cajun 2 of pumping large amounts of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides(NOx) — two powerful greenhouse gases — into the atmosphere in violation of the Clean Air Act. At the time of the settlement, the assistant attorney general for DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division called Big Cajun 2 “the largest source of illegal air pollution in Louisiana.”

But screw the environment. It’s obviously far more important for Landrieu to save her job than it is to save lives.

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  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    Did she wear a respirator while she was there?

  • Trebuchet

    LA has lots of oil and gas, but as far as I can tell, no coal at all. I’m a bit puzzled as to how she thinks this will help her in the state. Why not promote switching the plant to oil or gas?

    Oh, right — money!

    Sen. Landrieu was also governor at the time of Hurricane Katrina. She bungled the response almost as badly as Michael “Heckuva Job” Brown.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    That settlement ended the DOJ’s 2009 lawsuit accusing Big Cajun 2 of pumping large amounts of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides(NOx) — two powerful greenhouse gases — into the atmosphere in violation of the Clean Air Act.

    This is incorrect as phrased. SO2 and NOx are not greenhouse gasses, they actually have the effect of blocking sunlight and mitigating warming somewhat. They are however very bad for your health and they’re the primary contributors to acid rain.

    But that’s a small price to pay for…wait, what was the point of putting this shit in the air again?

  • Chiroptera

    Off topic, but:

    What’s more, the CEO of the company that owns the plant recently said he believes that EPA should be regulating carbon pollution from coal plants….

    Because he’s worried about Global Climate Change? I’ve been wondering how long it would take the wealthy elite to realize that they aren’t going to escape the pain and harm caused by the reflexive science denialism they’ve instilled into their followers.

  • colnago80

    Re Trebuchet @ #2

    Senator Landrieu was never governor of Louisiana. She ran for the office in 1995 and finished 3rd.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Landrieu

    It’s all very well to criticize her stance on the coal plant but I would bet the ranch that if she is defeated for reelection, her opponent will be far worse.

  • colnago80

    If the CEO of the company that runs that coal burning power plant is so worried about pollution, why doesn’t he convert the plant to natural gas, which is plentiful in Louisiana?

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    LA has lots of oil and gas, but as far as I can tell, no coal at all. I’m a bit puzzled as to how she thinks this will help her in the state.

    They do have some coal. Apparently, a whopping 243 people work as coal miners in LA. That’s as much a testament to how very few jobs the coal industry accounts for as much as it is the lack of coal in LA.

    The coal plant does however account for a lot of sunk capital and probably generates good profits, so you can bet that the pull of the rich people who own it greatly exceeds those 243 coal miners.

    I suspect that the real issue here is cultural, with generations of ingrained prejudice against hippies and environmentalists taking precedence over little things like being able to breathe. Landrieu should be trying to explain to her constituents that their health and the future habitability of low lying areas of the state are more important than hippie-punching or some rich asshole’s bottom line, but that would require something other than total cowardice.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    If the CEO of the company that runs that coal burning power plant is so worried about pollution, why doesn’t he convert the plant to natural gas, which is plentiful in Louisiana?

    I’m pretty sure you can’t just convert a coal plant to a gas plant with a few minor upgrades. It would be like building a new plant. The whole thing with legacy power plants is that they are capital intensive to build, but once built, the marginal cost of generating electricity is fairly low. So the incentive is to keep those old, dirty plants running for as long as possible.

  • Kevin Kehres

    Actually, my local power plant is a “dual burner”, using natural gas in the summer and coal in the winter, when natural gas supplies are diverted for home-heating use.

    I think a retrofit would be pretty simple. It’s just burning shit to heat water to make steam to spin turbines.

    Egad, 19th century technology driving a 21st century world.

  • scienceavenger

    Yeah, but all that land is going to be covered soon by the ocean that isn’t rising, so it doesn’t matter how dirty it is. Duh!

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    A study commissioned by the nonprofit Clean Air Task Force estimated that fine particle pollution from the Big Cajun 2 plant in 2012 caused 23 deaths, 32 heart attacks, 410 asthma attacks, and 14 cases of chronic bronchitis

    Come on, people! Put the “positive” in “negative externalities”! Think how many jobs that created for ambulance drivers, nurses and doctors, coroners and morticians!

  • Trebuchet

    @5, SLC:

    Well nuts. One of these days I’ll learn to look stuff up before posting.

  • drowner

    Trebuchet,

    You are probably thinking of Mary Landrieu’s brother, Mitch, who was serving as Lt. Governor at the time Katrina hit. The Governor was (D) Kathleen Babineaux-Blanco. She was very much a contributing factor to the failed response by authorities. IIRC she decided against allowing the National Guard access to the affected areas for a few days, out of spite for the Bush Administration, but I don’t remember the exact justification or logic (if it existed). Louisianians have some of the worst Democrats in the nation.

  • Trebuchet

    Louisianians have some of the worst Democrats in the nation.

    Which, unfortunately, is not saying much.

    Completely off-topic: This post delayed because Microsoft, which discontinued updates for XP a couple of months ago, is currently installing one. At least I hope it’s them.