The Kentucky Environmental Foundation, in collaboration with the Purchase District Health Department, conducted an HIA to inform decisions on whether to retire or retrofit the coal-fired Shawnee Fossil Plant in McCracken County. The HIA also informed the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Integrated Resource Planning, which guides future energy production scenarios. Data indicate that rates of asthma, heart disease, and low birth weight in the county are higher than those statewide. Air pollution is a risk factor for all these conditions.
The HIA assessed health impacts associated with employment, the local economy, and air and water quality and found that retirement of the plant would create the greatest reduction in environmental effects on health but also would have the greatest impact on employment and the local economy. Resulting job loss could affect health through increased risk of heart attacks, reduced physical activity, decreased mental health status, and increased use of alcohol. Retirement of the plant would also reduce the tax base for local services, potentially affecting funding for public safety services and education. Retrofitting the plant, along with anticipated new regulations such as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, could lessen environmental impacts on health and allow both the Tennessee Valley Authority and McCracken County to create long-term plans to mitigate economic changes resulting from plant retirement. Retrofitting the plant could also create additional jobs.
Deborah Payne, health coordinator for the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, received the Kentucky Environmental Quality Commission’s Earth Day Award for her work on the Shawnee Fossil Plant HIA. The award recognized the value of promoting health in energy-related decisions. Payne was honored by state Representative Rita Smart.