On The Southern Road

by Robert Gardner

April 18, 2013

The Big Cajun Coal Fired Power Plant

The landscape from Plaquemines Parish, south of New Orleans, through to Biloxi and North into Selma is some of the most beautiful Ive ever seen in my life.Life underneath the levees of the delta is a thing of beauty.

Wetlands seem to flow with abundance; egrets, gulls and all types of waterfowl fly overhead. This landscape is alive.

As the delta gives way to the red earth of Mississippi and Alabama, long stretches of pine forest roll in great hills all around.

This is a beautiful landscape. A beautiful culture. A beautiful heritage.

Thats why its so hard seeing the blight that dots the landscape. Im down here bear witness to these destructive elements and to hear from local communities about their model of community organizing.

Its been a powerful few days.

We started north of New Orleans on a two lane road pocked with massive chemical facilities. The smell is overwhelming. We were stopped in our tracks by the Big Cajun II coal-fired power plant. Its enormous stacks dominate the landscape around it. Even in the remote setting of New Roads it kills nearly 30 people per year. It has one of the largest coal piles Ive ever seen.

South to Plaquemines. There we found the KinderMorgan coal export facility. Massive earth movers shuttle 10-story high piles of coal back and forth between the land and the barges. The coal industry wants to expand its exports in the Gulf. They want to turn America into a resource colony.

We moved east to Gulfport and Biloxi. Gulfport has the Jack Watson coal plant. We could see the toxic coal ash piles from the road. Its stacks dominate the skyline. Fly ash, bottom ash and boiler slag are stored here.

In Biloxi the city is still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. Vast stretches of its beaches are undeveloped where once tourists enjoyed the Gulfs bounty. Ive heard that this is where Katrina made landfall.

As we drive north the pine forests are getting denser. We pass a steel plant, resin plants, chemical fiber processing plants. There isnt much else out here. Cell service goes away. We pass Mississippi Powers Daniel coal plant. It is the largest power plant in Mississippi. Pine forests dominate the landscape. Trucks full of milled wood en route to particleboard plants pass us on the road. The plants puff steam on a distant horizon.

Into Alabama we come to the enormous Barry coal plant. You can see its failed carbon capture system from the road. Around back are its ash ponds. They are amongst the biggest in the nation. They are not lined.

The scenes of industrial pollution are all over this landscape. It is alternatively strikingly beautiful and a tragic reminder of the human and environmental damage caused by our dependency on fossil fuels.

We have several more days in Alabama. We will go to Selma and Perry County. We will meet communities struggling to maintain their existence in the face of well-organized and funded corporations.

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