A coalition of Prince George’s County clergy is calling on lawmakers from the county to back Gov. Martin O’Malley’s plan to spur offshore wind farms off the Atlantic Coast.
Pointing to health and environmental effects of air and water pollution from coal-burning power plants, the group of 36 church officials who live or work in Prince George’s — including ministers, nuns, priests, rabbis and an imam — is urging county legislators on the Senate Finance and House Economic Matters committees to support the governor’s revised attempt to get wind power into Maryland.
“We see this as a moral issue,” the Rev. Kip Banks Sr., a Upper Marlboro resident and pastor of East Washington Heights Baptist Church, said in a conference call Monday afternoon.
“As clergy we recognize the core issue is the impact this has on people, particularly poor persons and persons of color,” Banks said.
“Power plants and coal ash dumps aren’t in our communities by coincidence; it is environmental racism,” the clergy wrote in their letter to state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Dist. 26), a minister who serves on the Finance Committee and lives in Fort Washington, and four Prince George’s delegates on the Economic Matters Committee, including its Chairman Dereck E. Davis (D-Dist. 25) of Upper Marlboro.
Maryland’s major coal-burning power plants are mostly in the Washington-Baltimore region, including Chalk Point near Aquasco in southernmost Prince George’s County.
Coal ash from electricity generation dumped in a pit in Brandywine, also in southern Prince George’s, has been blamed for leaking carcinogenic chemicals into drinking water.
Last month, a coalition of environmental and public health groups announced its intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in regard to a delay in issuing rules for coal ash disposal.
“Because our communities have borne more than our share of the costs of dirty power, we ask you to lead the way in advancing clean alternatives,” wrote the clergy, who were rallied by Interfaith Power & Light, a coalition of religious groups established in 1998 to support the push for renewable energy. The group has affiliates in 38 states, including one focused on Maryland, the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia.
But some advocates for small businesses and the poor have balked, citing higher costs associated with offshore power generation. They argue that offshore development would cost households an estimated $2 more per month, an ill-advised increase in a struggling economy.
“To talk about this as costing more is to ignore the context,” said Joelle Novey of Interfaith Power & Light.
The group cites Harvard University School of Public Health findings that pollution from Maryland’s six largest coal-fired power plants can be blamed for an estimated 100 deaths, 4,000 asthma attacks and 80 children’s emergency room visits annually.
Banks said the community also could benefit from jobs that might develop to manufacture, install and maintain wind turbines off the mid-Atlantic shore.
“We see the benefits far outweighing the costs of lost lives, and entire communities suffering the impacts,” said Banks, who added, “We should not abuse God’s creation.”
On Feb. 2, Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gave the go-ahead for wind farms off the mid-Atlantic coast and appeared with O’Malley (D) in Baltimore to talk about the potential for power generation, which he called “staggering.”
About 80,000 acres roughly 12 nautical miles from Ocean City have been designated for leasing.
If leases are issued this year and legislation is approved adding offshore wind credits to the renewable energy portfolio Maryland requires of utilities, wind farms could begin operating off Maryland’s coast in 2017, according to the O’Malley administration, which foresees a 310-megawatt installation that could generate 1,200 jobs during five years of construction and 250 operating and maintenance jobs.
None of the lawmakers to whom the letter was addressed returned calls for comment.