Posted on August 31, 2016 by Michael Hardy
Spencer Johnson’s classic came to mind when I learned of new plans for the Burger power plant on the Ohio River. The Burger plant has had a makeover from an electric generating facility to a massive chemical plant feasting on the abundant natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica regions of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio.
When I returned from active duty, my employer said, you will practice environmental law. Because I was accustomed to taking orders, I said “yes sir”. That led me to cooling towers for the Davis Besse and Perry Nuclear plants on Lake Erie. More dramatically, however, it led me to years of dealing with coal-fired generation in Ohio. Rich with coal and numerous coal-fired plants on Lake Erie and the Ohio River (and other rivers as well), I thought Ohio would supply cheap, coal-fired energy for many people for years. Unfortunately, I did not predict the obsolescence of coal-fired electric generation or the recent emergence of natural gas as the leading source of fuel for power. I saw clients invest billions of dollars in pollution control equipment only to see the emission reduction goal posts moved beyond reach as regulators adopted progressively more stringent measures to address new national ambient air quality standards, lake breeze fumigation, long range transport, acid rain, regional haze, hazardous air pollutants, and greenhouse gas emissions.
When I started my practice, virtually all of the Ohio base load units burned coal. And thousands of Ohio miners worked and their families prospered. Barges carried coal down the Ohio River or unit trains took coal to the Lake Erie plants. I saw Little Egypt take big bites of coal and overburden in southeastern Ohio. I remember when an interstate (77) was closed to let the mammoth excavator proceed to the next seam of coal on the other side.
I have stood on the air pollution control deck of a massive Ohio River power plant that spans a highway. I have wiped the floor with white gloves of a coal fired plant on Lake Erie. I have worked with the dedicated professionals who took pride in maintaining those plants. So it saddens me to read that talented engineers are being laid off from engineering companies in Akron, and major utilities are selling megawatts on the Ohio River. AEP and First Energy have announced plans to auction generating units.
Some of us remember that our success was measured in jobs retained while reaching a reasonable accommodation with the environment. I hope my successors have that opportunity .
So with sadness and regret – but also an appreciation that my career started in 1973, at the beginning of the burgeoning practice of environmental law, when “Coal Was King” and the Burger plant was alive and well – I hope you watch this short video of the demolition of the Burger coal-fired power plant to make way for a natural gas cracker. Here is the demise of the Burger “tall stack.” May Burger rest in peace.