Coal Plant Center of Controversy: Concerns About Health

The Martin Drake Coal Power Plant in Colorado Springs is at the center of a controversial conversation after a new study is released.

An environmental group released the study that claims the downtown power plant harms our health, because it’s fired by coal.

We’re all seen the steam coming from the coal-fired power plant near downtown.

The Sierra Club wants to see it shut down citing a new study that claims that no matter what the utility company does, the power plant is polluting our air with a harmful gas called sulfur dioxide.

“It’s much more than us just calling this out, we’re talking about public health, talking about these communities that are in the shadow of this power plant that are breathing in the sulfur dioxide,” Bryce Carter, Associate Organizing Representative for Sierra Club Beyond Coal in Colorado.

Carter thinks all Springs residents should be concerned, especially those living along the western foothills. They say the pollution could affect not only neighborhoods but dozens of schools.

They mapped the dangerous levels of pollution and pinpointed it to the Kissing Camels neighborhood and Garden of the Gods, through Colorado City and Manitou Springs, down to the Broadmoor region.

Experts say the elderly and children are most vulnerable to this pollution.

“The pollution can cause asthma attacks, severe respiratory problems, lung disease and heart complications,” said Bryce Carter, Associate Organizing Representative for Sierra Club Beyond Coal in Colorado.

The environmental group says that coal is the nation’s dirtiest energy sources. If the plant does not stop using coal, their study models project the emissions could cause 8 deaths each year and cost the public $65 million in health bills; that’s according to the Clean Air Task Force.

“This is us saying look, we need to stop, we need to looks at these considerations and with the modeling we’ve done, we really should look at this path because ultimately it’s gonna become an issue and it’s whether or not we start addressing it now or down the road when it’s too late,” said Carter.

“We believe air quality is very good in Colorado Springs. The Drake Power Plant already has pollution control devices and with additional pollution controls that we will put in place, it will make the emissions from that plant even better,” said CSU Spokesperson Dave Grossman.

Colorado Springs Utilities which operates the plant says they don't give credibility to the study because it's based off theoretical models and not air quality test data.

Testing CSU says they did.

"There were 11 different sites that were tested for 19 straight years and we found that we were well below the EPA standards for sulfur dioxide,” said Grossman.

That testing ended in 2007. CSU says that’s because the emission levels of sulfur dioxide were so low, far below EPA regulations that they didn’t need to continue the study.

The Sierra Club study claims the plant does not meet air quality standards. CSU says it does and they have the affirmation from the state and federal level to prove it.

And they always work to improve it. This year they are putting in new pollution controlling devices.

“That will remove more than 90% of the sulfur dioxide in the emissions,” said Grossman.

People we talked to downtown had mixed feelings about the coal plant.

"Although I'm into alternative fuel sources and alternative energy, a bit more research needs to be done to able to contain what might happen with those type of energy sources, but we do need to come up with something that's better because coal isn't going to be around forever,” said Christina Riegel.

Even though CSU does not believe the plant is harmful, they say they will do what the community wants.

So the city is creating a task force to study the possible environmental and cost benefits of decommissioning the plant in the next 15 years and using another energy source.

While the study claims the coal power plant is costly and will only cost rate payers more in the future, Grossman says “We believe that even with the new environmental controls that we need to put on, the Drake power plant and other existing power plant facilities provide the least cost power for our customers for the future.”

The study expands on how they believe the health concerns will not go away, even with all the modifications CSU has done or are planning. They also worry about the cost to taxpayers.

To learn more visit the links below:,4oct12.pdf,4oct12.pdf