Politicians rescue loan for benefactor's waste coal-to-oil project
Two of those politicians have taken tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from project president John W. Rich Jr. and members of his family, whose regional business empire is heavily invested in waste coal. However, those same politicians have failed to take action to protect the public from the considerable amount of pollution the facility will dump into the environment -- even though federal health authorities have acknowledged that area residents are suffering from high rates of diseases linked to environmental contamination.
U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and U.S. Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pa.) announced the reinstatement of the loan to Waste Management and Processors Inc. on Friday, just weeks after President Bush's latest budget rescinded the money. The $800 million project has already received $47 million in state tax credits and a $7.7 million cost-share investment from the U.S. Department of Energy. The plant will also be exempt from state and local taxes through 2013, as it is planned for a Keystone Opportunity Zone.
Under an agreement, the plant backers now have until the end of the year to secure funding for the facility before the loan is rescinded, according to the lawmakers.Unfortunately, Specter repeats the same misleading propaganda disseminated by the Bush administration and Rich that the technology behind the project is somehow "clean." In fact, the plant would release enormous amounts of greenhouse gas pollution linked to global warming. It would also emit significant quantities of toxic chemicals into local communities that are already grappling with multiple sources of pollution, including dirty waste-fuel-burning power plants owned by the Riches. Reports Schuylkill Taxpayers Opposed to Pollution, a grassroots citizens group fighting the coal-to-diesel facility:
Sean Kevelighan, a spokesman with the Office of Management and Budget, said the decision was reached after Specter arranged a meeting with the parties involved.
"At a time when our nation is grappling with energy security, we should be using every incentive and tool at our disposal to promote clean coal-to-liquid technology in the U.S.," Specter said in a statement.
Air pollutants throughout the process would be emitted from the refinery's six stacks (five 200 foot stacks and one 300 foot stack) and from the storage tanks, which are expected to leak over one ton of diesel and naphtha each year. The state [Department of Environmental Protection] has permitted the refinery to annually release up to 99.9 tons each of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter (including up to 15 tons of sulfuric acid mist) as well as 49.9 tons of volatile organic compounds, 100 tons of ammonia and unlimited amounts of carbon dioxide and other unregulated pollutants. In total, the refinery would release hundreds of tons per year of health-damaging air pollutants, including 38 pounds of mercury.Despite the obvious risk the plant presents to public health, Specter, Casey and Holden have failed to take any action to address the problem. That raises the question: Why would these politicians be so attentive to the Riches' interests, yet apparently so indifferent to the public interest?
One clue lies in campaign finance records, which show that the Riches contribute generously to both Holden and Specter. From the 2002 through 2006 election cycles, Rich family members donated at least $21,000 to Holden's campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' Open Secrets database. During the same period, the family donated at least $12,750 to Specter, and at least $67,000 to the Republican Federal Committee of Pennsylvania. The database does not show any contributions from the Rich family to Casey, but it will be interesting to see if that changes now that the freshman senator has gone to bat for them.
It appears that the Riches' money means more to these politicians than the well being of their constituents. The voters should remember that come election time.
Labels: coal to oil