Joe Kernan, our governor, proposes that we should ignore the fact that some regions of the state do not meet health standards for air pollution. It's bad for economic growth, he says.
His Republican opponent goes to Evansville and suggests that we should have to endure yet another coal-fired power plant because, he claims, it is good for economic growth.
Both are wrong.
First, the Clean Air Act clearly states that we are in violation of its health-based standards. When that happens, the act requires the offending Metropolitan Statistical Area to be designated as "non-attainment," which requires the area to take steps to clean up its pollution.
Except for a couple of years, Southwest Indiana has been in non-attainment of either the "one-hour" or the "eight-hour" ozone standard for more than a quarter century, with very little done locally to correct the problem. The result is that a kid in Evansville is five times more likely to have asthma than a similar kid in Fort Wayne, which shares nearly equal demographics.
Why is not a secret. Southwest Indiana is the center of the largest concentration of coal-fired power plants in the world. Fort Wayne has none near it.
Kernan apparently does not care about Evansville kids with asthma. No, all he wants is more polluters to locate in the area so he can claim victory in attracting industry, polluting or not.
Mitch Daniels, on the other hand, is bolder in seeking to make that area an even greater sacrifice zone for the energy needs of the rest of the United States.
Indiana is second only to Texas in the burning of coal, 67 million tons per year. For that, we also rate from first to third in the release of chemicals that form ozone and fine particles. Ozone causes asthma and other respiratory problems. Fine particles are blamed for more than 30,000 deaths each year in the United States.
But the problems with burning coal do not stop there.
There is also the huge problem with mercury. Mercury is a horrible neurotoxin that can severely retard a child's mental development, both prior to and after birth. Indiana emits about 2.5 tons of mercury per year from power plants.
The result: 100 percent of our streams and lakes carry a "fish consumption advisory" warning women of child-bearing age and children to refrain from eating more than one quarter-pound a month of Indiana-caught fish. The mercury problem is not confined to Indiana. Illinois and Kentucky add 3.7 tons each year. Those states also have similar warnings for their mothers and children.
But Daniels' proposal is insensitive for other reasons, too.
One is that Indiana exports a good percentage of the power we produce. Getting a handle on just how much is difficult, but we do know that several of our utilities have contracts to sell power to places as far away as Virginia. Daniels attempts to mislead the public by saying we need the new energy to keep up with demand. But actually, we produce more than we consume in Indiana. Why should Hoosiers bear even more polluted air just so other areas of the country can have clean "growth"?
We simply cannot tolerate another coal-fired power plant in Southwest Indiana. We have enough already. If Daniels thinks we need another plant in Indiana, then let him build it in Indianapolis. Do you think that the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce would support such a desire? The answer is a resounding "NO!"
What is most troubling about all this is that Evansville's mayor, its so-called Environmental Protection Agency and City Council, are following Kernan's lead in seeking an exemption from the Clean Air Act's health protections.
Instead of being outraged that asthma rates are so high or that our friends and neighbors are dying as a result of the massive pollution we must endure, they pass a resolution seeking to allow these diseases and death to continue, free of any requirement to clean up our act.
I suppose they will say that makes sense for economic growth, that our sacrifice is necessary if we want jobs. But the fact is that the only industries that worry about issues such as attainment or non-attainment are those that want to increase pollution substantially.
Unfortunately, Evansville has shown itself as a community that cares little about its collective health. We advocate the ability to exempt ourselves from national health standards so we can continue to attract more polluting industry.
Yes, kids suffer asthma and mental retardation and citizens die, but so what? Those are concerns only for those "wacko" environmentalists who are "against everything."
Other areas of the country take a collective sigh of relief when our region approves another coal plant. They know they won't have to endure the prolific public health problems in their communities, yet they will still get their energy at a cost that does not take into account the health and environmental burden we Hoosiers so eagerly accept.
And I did not even mention global warming. But according to state leaders, that is something that does not even exist.
Denial is all we know. Ignorance is bliss.
John Blair is a veteran Indiana environmental activist and president of Valley Watch, an Evansville-based environmental group.