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The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control doesn’t know how to handle all the young people coming out and speaking out against Santee Cooper’s proposed “Pee Dee Energy Campus,” a pretty euphamism to mask Santee Cooper’s dirty ambitions for a 600 MW pulverized coal plant on the banks of the Great Pee Dee River. Nor did the crowd of Santee Cooper subsidized supporters know how to handle us. Speaker after speaker tried to undermine the intentions of the twenty young people present by meanly accusing us of being there for school credit or by leveraging age as an indicator of intelligence.
However, the youth message was wildly different. Ten young people got up to speak last night and made public comments urging DHEC to deny Santee Cooper a 401 Water Quality permit that they need to build an intake and discharge structure on the Great Pee Dee River. Our message was one of unity, of shared hopes and common needs. In a community that desperately needs jobs, in a state with growing energy demands, young people challenged Santee Cooper, looking CEO Lonnie Carter right in the eye, to be a national leader and a real force of innovation for the state. Communities should not have to be sacrificed at the alter of energy demands, especially when there are healthy, clean alternatives.
Santee Cooper’s coal plant would: emit 93 lbs of mercury into an environment already overburdened by high mercury levels, destroy 92 acres of wetlands, create toxic ash dumps on the banks of a large fresh water source, employ 100 people and perpetuate the devastation of Appalachian communities. A 3% increase in statewide energy efficiency efforts would eliminate the “need” for the coal plant and serious investment in clean energy would create tens of thousands of jobs across the state. Santee Cooper has a choice to make and South Carolina’s youth will not settle!!
Making History in the Dirty South
Across the South students have been gearing up for today! We know our region is a huge part of the climate problem and that’s why we’ve been working our tails off all fall to get voters to the polls.
In the past 15 days I’ve been on campuses in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina. I’ve ended the whirlwind tour at the University of Florida. On Saturday 47% of registered voters here in Alachua County had already voted. Since 7 this morning students have been filing to the polls by the hundreds. Campus is green with Power Vote “bike hangers.”
Three students from Coastal Carolina University sat in the bleachers Thursday night overwhelmed by the 80 some Santee Cooper employees staring at them from across the gym, by the others paid by or associated with the utility who were out “on their own time” to show their support for a proposed coal plant in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina.
These hearings before the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control aren’t usually well attended by anyone below the age of 30 and it seemed that the future of South Carolina would let another hearing about DHEC’s draft Maximum Achievable Control Technology permit for Santee Cooper pass unchallenged. But a couple minutes past 6pm, after the hearing had officially begun, another fifty young people from across the state filed into the gym in green hard hats with “No Coal” stickers on them and filled the bleachers next to the sea of green t-shirt clad Santee Cooper employees. Those being paid to be there shot dirty looks at those of us who were in Pamplico on Thursday because we knew we must be, because we knew Santee Cooper would be manipulating the crowd and trying to drown out the voice of the real citizens making public comment.
But they couldn’t stop us. The hearing lasted five long hours, until 11pm, and in the last set of five speakers, three were young people. As the night wore on, more and more people left, more and more people weren’t there to make their comments, but South Carolina youth with anywhere from a two to three hours drive ahead of them remained and waited for their turn to stand up and speak out against a new 600 MW coal plant that would emit 93 lbs of mercury into the environment a year, that would emit even more CO2 and perpetuate a legacy of dirty energy. As one of the last speakers Thursday night, a grad student from the College of Charleston asked everyone 25 and under to stand up (almost half the room remaining stood), she then asked anyone in that age group who supported the coal plant to please sit down. No one sat down.
The future of South Carolina has spoken, articulately and overwhelmingly: we will not allow Santee Cooper to build another dirty and archaic energy facility in our state! It’s time for change and it is obvious that it is up to our generation to fight for the future we all deserve and know we can create together.