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Local meeting
wisdom of
power plants

by Mark Vasto
Landmark reporter

Dr. John Spertus said he wasn’t looking for a cause when he decided to begin speaking out against the proposed coal-fired power plants outside of Weston in Platte County.

To hear Spertus tell it, it’s a moral obligation. That’s because Spertus, director of cardiovascular research at St. Luke’s Hospital’s Mid America Heart Institute and a professor of the UMKC School of Medicine, believes the plants will lead to hundreds of needless deaths in the Kansas City area if built.

“I absolutely do believe that. There is no doubt in my mind,” Spertus said. “I can’t tell you which person is going to die, but I can absolutely tell you with utter confidence that there will be more deaths, more heart attacks, more congestive heart failure, and more cardiovascular problems affecting our community with the inclusion of these plants.”

On Tuesday night at the Platte City Civic Center, Spertus got a chance to articulate why his beliefs should be taken seriously. Spertus had been invited to sit on a panel of experts at an informational meeting conducted by the Concerned Citizens of Platte County, a meeting that saw about 30 people in attendance.

Spertus declared that the study, commissioned by the Clear the Air Task Force and introduced to the Kansas City media at a press event staged outside the Hawthorne power plant by Sierra Club spokesperson Melissa Blakley, was anything but biased propaganda. In fact, he said, the data was merely the result of sound, accumulated research that the scientific community was beginning to endorse.

“It’s actually a scientific treatment by the American Heart Association that has attempted to really synthesize the world’s literature on this into a crisp summary,” Spertus said.

The study, which has come under fire from industry officials, purports that power plant pollution is responsible for 5,069 asthma attacks, 345 heart attacks, and 191 premature deaths in the Kansas City area alone.

Spertus charged that the proposed Weston Bend power plants would add to those numbers dramatically “unless KCP&L comes up with a way to obtain a net reduction in discharging these particles.”

In order to do so, Spertus contended that KCP&L would have to take their “dirty plants completely offline and then put up cleaner burning plants.” Spertus said that such a plan could be possible, but that he had heard no discussions about that.

KCP&L maintains that their Hawthorne power plant in Kansas City is the cleanest coal burning plant in the country and that it is committed to installing pollution controls at their existing plants. Representatives from the company have told The Landmark that they did not plan on putting the best available pollution controls at their Iatan plant, however, reasoning that the Public Service Commission (PSC) would not allow them to charge higher rates to cover such an expense.

As luck would have it, State Representative Philip Willoughby was in attendance at the Tuesday session. Willoughby knows a thing or two about the PSC: he’s a member of the house joint committee on utility regulation and infrastructure investment. And he didn’t have kind words for the system that controls how much Missouri’s residents pay for energy.

The PSC, Willoughby explained, was not in the business of rewarding innovation, efficiency or providing environmentally sound sources of energy. Their job was to provide electricity at the “lowest possible price,” he said.

Spertus challenged whether or not the PSC had taken into account the deaths and health problems suffered in the areas being serviced by coal plants. Building on his point, he stated that the current Iatan plant should be shut down and that future plants needed to be moved to less populated areas, saying that it was ridiculous to expose a metropolitan area to the health risks associated with burning coal.

Willoughby agreed, but conceded that the only way the PSC could change its viewpoint was through legislation and that such legislation was unlikely to happen anytime soon.

“The legislature has never been clairvoyant,” Willoughby said, illustrating what he described as shortsighted approach to providing energy. He said that the issue is often overlooked because it wasn’t a “squeaky wheel.”

“It it’s not a campaign issue, it doesn’t get addressed,” Willoughby admitted.

After the meeting, Spertus addressed critics of the anti-power plant movement, rejecting any notion that he was an “alarmist” bent on scaring people from choosing to support the power plant.

“All I see myself doing is being a communicator of the fact-based literature. (To say that) is to say that the American Heart Association is an alarmist organization and I don’t believe that. I think they’ve been a very strong advocate for decades of human health and US health in particular,” Spertus said. “I’m a researcher, I’m a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, I’m doing a lot of research on the outcomes of cardiovascular disease. I’ve been a very strong proponent of quality and I would say its my commitment to quality and improving the outcomes of people with heart disease that has led me to this cause.”

Spertus said he chose to get involved in the issue because he had made a commitment to practice what he preached.

“If I write (about air pollution) in scientific journals, if I serve on panels for the Institute of Medicine, and agencies like that, how could it be critical of me not to be concerned with my own community and what’s going on in my own backyard?”


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