Organized labor backs plan for coal-to-oil plant
Waste Management and Processors Inc.'s plans to build a coal gasification liquefaction plant in Mahanoy Township drew strong support Tuesday from organized labor.
During a U.S. Department of Energy hearing in the D.H.H. Lengel Middle School auditorium to gather and record public comment on the proposed facility, Gary Martin, president of the Schuylkill County Building and Construction Trades Council, praised the project and took a few jabs at economic development efforts.
Martin said WMPI President John W. Rich Jr. has promised to use local union laborers on the construction of the $612 million facility, which Rich later confirmed.
"We believe in this project," Martin said. "We can't believe John Rich or any other businessman would build this plant knowing that it was going to be a pollutant. It just doesn't make business sense."
He defended Rich against charges of "being some kind of traitor" and blasted projects in the Highridge on 81 Business Park that he claimed enjoyed tax breaks and used non-union, non-local labor.
He also referred to the use of illegal alien workers at the Wal-Mart warehouse under construction at Highridge.
"They used workers from all over the country and even Mexico. Your tax dollars and ours. That's where the betrayal comes in," he said.
"This is the first time since the McAdoo cogen plant that a Schuylkill County businessman is committed to using local labor.
"Not only will it be the first of its kind in America, it will be the best," Martin said.
The DOE will include the comments made at the hearing, and another one held Monday in Shenandoah, in the project's Environmental Impact Study. About 300 people attended each hearing.
The department will accept written comment until Feb. 8, after which it will amend the EIS. The new EIS will be made available for 30 days before the assistant secretary of fossil energy decides whether to approve grant money slated for the project.
Although the unions favor the project, many raised concerns Tuesday about air pollution, noise, ground water depletion and truck traffic.
"There are too many ifs, ands, likelys, maybes, could bes and possiblys in this draft and no definites," said Sharon R. Chiao, chariwoman of the Mahanoy Township supervisors.
Moreover, she said the EIS contradicts itself, saying there would be no problem with sulfur dioxide emissions, which smell like rotten eggs, even though a plant in South Africa has three odor complaints a month.
Also, the EIS says dust raised during construction would have an impact on health, albeit a temporary one.
Chiao and other speakers questioned the impact the facility would have on the Morea Water Company's water supply. The company, which serves 350 customers, draws its water from a well located near the project site.
She also fears that the plant, with six smokestacks, will further hinder visibility in an already foggy area through which Interstate 81 travels.
Frank Mansell, Saint Clair, said the EIS doesn't have an estimate of possible hazardous emissions of heavy metals and other noxious substances and fails to address traffic concerns.
"Please try to do more than just estimate and assume," he said.
Ellen Sluzis, Morea, fears noise, like that she gets from the nearby Gilberton Power Co. cogeneration plant.
"When the plant is firing up, the noise is unbearable," she said. It wakes her up at night and if she is in her yard she must go inside.
That noise comes less than weekly and lasts only a few minutes. She said she wanted to know how much noise the coal-to-gas plant would make.
Rich hopes to break ground for the facility this spring. The plant will transform waste coal into synthesis gas, a clear, zero-sulfur liquid that will be marketed for the production of jet fuel.
Hard copies of the EIS can be obtained by contacting Janice L. Bell, DOE document manager, at (412) 386-4512.
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