You Are My Perfect Muse

Brunner Island Power Plant in York County, PA.
Brunner Island Power Plant in York County, PA.

One evening you send me a picture of gorgeous serenity, a vignette of America’s heartland, a scene of unadulterated beauty. My sense of awe is tinged by unease, as I wonder how much longer our country could remain this perfect, peaceful, and pristine, given the reckless behavior of industry and individual alike… Just as I wonder how long you and I will last — forever or for a mere season?

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After The Sierra Club told me about a legal loophole that allows Brunner Island Power Station to pollute with impunity, I decided to drive there to see for myself. This massive facility near Harrisburg is the only coal-fired power plant in our state without the pollution controls that would protect vulnerable Southeastern Pennsylvanians from large quantities of nitrogen oxide (NOx). Americans in Philadelphia, Berks, Chester, Lebanon, and Montgomery Counties have suffered for years from the smog. Because of this loophole, sickly looking yellow smoke disgorges into the atmosphere, with no buffer between the contaminants and your lungs.

A mountain of coal just sits there. Every breath spells dirtiness and filth. I am shocked to find that there are actually two people wading in the polluted stream, whom perhaps the overwhelming heat has made a bit less discerning.

Upon learning of my devotion to environmental conservation, one of my campaign supporters harangued me for a good half hour. She was absolutely convinced that climate change was nothing more than a liberal fabrication designed to justify government regulation (“Lindy, you should know better!”). I was stunned. Putting aside for a moment the reality of science and climate change, who could possibly deny that pollution itself is bad and that it causes asthma, heart disease, and death? Two-thirds of all Pennsylvanians — millions of Americans — breathe unsafe air as a result of smog pollution that exceeds federal standards. Philadelphia has the fifth highest number of asthma cases in the country. This is no accident.

Now I am not a champion of regulation for regulation’s sake. In fact, I believe that in many cases “the best government is that which governs least.” Environmental degradation, however, is a negative externality, meaning that those who pollute don’t always pay the cost of doing so, while we, the innocent bystanders, are forced to suffer the consequences. Instead of simply relying on the “better angels of our nature,” we should financially incentivize businesses to pursue the most sustainable ways to generate energy, thus aligning self-interest with the public good.

Protecting the environment, however, is in our self-interest. We all benefit from cleaner air and water and healthier communities. Pollution knows no national or generational boundaries — it does not stop for you or for me.

A hostage of click-bait, our 24-hour media cycle is obsessed with covering adrenaline-filled events at the expense of long-term processes that unfold over the course of generations. The coverage of climate change isn’t as revenue-generating as the latest celebrity saga. Yet it is precisely the long-term events that are often the most insidious, for their diffuse effects belie how harmful they can be.

Without further delay, the Environmental Protection Agency should require Brunner Island to install the NOx pollution controls that other plants already have. This coal plant should no longer be allowed to make you and your loved ones sick.

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Speaking from the heart often demands unspeakable courage. I hope you will at least grant me that, for I spoke at the risk of losing you.

Please sign this petition to tell our lawmakers that Brunner Island should no longer be given a free pass.

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