Since accepting a position as the chairperson for the Concerned Citizens of Platte County (CCPC), Dearborn resident Susan Brown has made frequent trips to the Platte County Commission’s administrative sessions and last week was no exception.
As Brown has done in weeks past, she took to the podium during the public comment portion of the meeting, attempting to build a case against the proposed project, focusing on the health and environmental impacts such a plant would have on the area.
Citing a study from the American Lung Association on asthma, Brown said that the Kansas City metropolitan area ranked as the eighth worst for people suffering from asthma out of the top 100 cities in America.
She then pointed a question to the commission, asking if they would join with the CCPC in asking the Army Corps of Engineers to require a full environmental impact statement and health assessment for the plant.
In weeks past, Commissioners Steve Wegner and Betty Knight have shown a willingness to engage Brown, usually offering brief rejoinders to her statements and questions. Through it all, Commissioner Michael Short has generally kept silent, preferring to stay out of the fray.
Last week Short engaged Brown in what became, at least by commission standards, a rollicking debate on the power plant issue.
He began by immediately taking issue with the study Brown referenced.
“It just so happens that I serve on the Mid-America Regional council’s air quality forum,” Short informed Brown. “I know a thing or two about that study.”
“Good,” Brown challenged. “Tell me more.”
Unfazed, Short asked Brown, “Did that study contain any indication of whether or not that finding was based wholly or in part on power plant emissions?”
“I don’t know,” admitted Brown.
“It didn’t,” Short stated matter-of-factly. “It attributed the air quality here to a lot of other causes.”
Short said air quality in the region suffered due to motor vehicle emissions and natural conditions such as pollen. Short then admonished Brown’s use of the study in her statement.
“It’s very important that if you’re going to cite a source, that you know what the source says. That’s really important.”
Brown said she was attempting to use the study to make a point, but Short wasn’t convinced.
“Your point is misleading because you draw a conclusion from a study that contains no reference to coal power plant emissions.”
Brown then sought to reframe her argument from a more scientific point of view, claiming that the plants would generate more ground level ozone.
“And ground level ozone exacerbates asthma attacks,” Brown charged before asking, “Do you think (the power plants) will make air quality better?”
“I think it will have minimal impact – minimal measurable impact – and you can quote that,” Short stated.
“I’m sure we will,” Brown said.
Short went on to underscore his claim.
“The biggest source of problems in this area – and if you read those studies you’d know it – are motor vehicle, fossil fuel emissions, and that isn’t changing. Until the driving habits of the metropolitan population change, you’re not going to see any measurable impact in our air quality.”
Brown conceded his point, but asked if it wasn’t a combination of the two sources of pollution, motor vehicle and coal power plant emissions.
“From the studies I’ve read, it’s the cars, believe me, it’s the cars. But it’s also emissions from coal burning power plants and all I’m saying is this is not going to make things better…two more sources will make it worse.”
Short then switched gears, referencing the letter from the Weston Board of Aldermen that expressed concern about the environmental impact the plant could have on the City of Weston.
Noting that Weston was not in his district (Short represents the southern portion of the county), Short said he wanted to “thank the Board of Aldermen of Weston for writing that letter. I’ve never had so many calls and comments from the Weston citizens thanking us for the position we have taken and questioning the board of aldermen’s motivation in writing such a letter.”
Short claimed that Weston residents told him that the Iatan power plant directly accounts for more than $500,000 in salaries for the area. He also said that the feedback, which he later said came from “five or ten” constituents, questioned the board of aldermen’s motivation in writing such a letter.
“They can’t imagine why those representatives of the City of Weston would then turn and challenge further economic development for their community.”
Brown expressed similar gratitude, but for different reasons.
“I’m grateful that (the Weston Board of Aldermen) listened to the residents that were in opposition. I thank them for writing (the letter), too.”
Commissioner Betty Knight supported Short’s claims.
“I’ve spoken with a lot of people in Weston and they can’t believe that letter was written and they’re in support of (the plans to build the plant).”
According to the Commission, since the Weston letter, they have received about 37 letters, phone calls or “interactions” which they classified as being supportive of the commission on the matter. Commission officials were not able to verify the number of negative comments since the letter writing.
Knight told Brown that she expected all parties in the project to abide with the law. Brown countered that the laws “weren’t built to protect public health.”
That remark drew Commissioner Steve Wegner into the debate.
Sitting up, Wegner asked Brown whether the government ever had laws that implemented mercury regulation in the past.
“No,” Brown replied. “There never have been.”
Thanking her for the answer, Wegner asked, “Do we have mercury legislation pending now?”
Brown said there was pending legislation.
“Thank you,” Wegner said, the point apparently made to his satisfaction.
Short agreed, saying that the country had “come a long way” in regards to environmental policy.
Clearly unaccustomed to such a vigorous response from all three of the commissioners, Brown sought to end the discussion.
“Listen, I’ve gotta go,” said Brown, apparently cognizant of the time, and shuffling papers. “What else do you have?”
The remark seemed to stun onlookers.
“Well…that was kind of impertinent,” said an incredulous Short. “I mean, we’ve sat here for weeks quietly and politely…listened to everything you’ve had to say and now when we’re talking to you, you’re done?”
Saying she had nothing more to add, Short offered her an assessment of her overall efforts.
“Susan, one thing that I’ve noticed about you is that you’re a passionate volunteer, you believe in what you’re doing and for that I admire you,” Short said. “But what I’ve also noticed about you is you draw some pretty big conclusions from pretty little pieces of information…from my personal point of view I’m going to start watching that a little more closely.”
Brown mustered up her last defense, again stating that asthma was a problem in the area and that the increased coal power generation in the area would make it worse. Commissioner Knight, seizing the opening in the conversation, went for the close.
“I’ve been in office awhile…not once in nine years have I heard about the plant harming anyone or concerned about what’s going on (at the Iatan plant),” Knight said. “We (the county) have signed a contract. There is nothing that we can do or want to do about that. That is binding.”
Brown, who for weeks had sought to persuade the commission to break that contract, said she realized that fact now. Knight nodded and asked if Brown had anything else to add but the debate was clearly over. As Brown walked back to her seat, Knight scanned the assembly and asked simply, “any more public comments?”
At least on this day, there were none.