Duke Energy’s Gibson power plant in southwest Indiana is the state’s largest and one of the biggest nationwide among the coal-fired fleet. Jamie Smith Hopkins/The Center for Public Integrity
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Center for Public Integrity’s new series on pollution, climate change and the industries fueling them is spawning reaction across the country, from editorials to emotional comments from readers.

Carbon Wars launched Sept. 29 with a collaboration between the Center, USA TODAY and The Weather Channel that identified America’s “super polluters” — the industrial sites emitting the most toxic air pollution, greenhouse gases or both. The story was accompanied by a data visualization that enables users to locate the biggest polluters within 30 miles of a particular location, or find details — including demographic data — on individual facilities.

Dozens of USA TODAY Network newspapers ran the Center’s story or produced their own versions, including localized pieces from The Arizona Republic, The Des Moines Register and the York Daily Record. Several newspapers wrote editorials:

The Indianapolis Star: “The health consequences for Hoosiers, and for our neighbors in other states, are serious. Air pollution significantly increases the risk of cancer, heart attacks and respiratory illnesses, such as asthma. So yes, the average cost for electricity is a bit cheaper in Indiana than in Ohio — 11.33 cents per kilowatt hour versus 12.47 cents. But how much do we lose from higher health care costs and insurance rates? How many years of productivity are lost because workers are burdened by chronic illnesses? Even more important, how many lives have been cut short because our state has been slow to further reduce air pollution?”

The Times Herald (Port Huron, Michigan): “A USA Today Network-Center for Public Integrity investigation released this week has some DTE coal plants listed among the largest sources of toxic-air and greenhouse-gas pollution. … Replacing coal-fired plants with cleaner, more efficient natural gas turbines will make the air we all have to breathe cleaner. Doing it here will help local workers and the region’s economy breathe easier.”

The Evening Sun (Hanover, Pennsylvania): “You know what they used to say about the Spring Grove odor: ‘It’s the smell of money.’ Right. And money is what corporations respond to. If we want cleaner, healthier air here, we must make sure that fines for environmental violations truly hit the bottom line.”

Other reactions included an op-ed from a former environmental regulator in Delaware and a letter to the editor from Mallory Rodenberg of Evansville, Indiana. “Before I read … [the] piece on the horrific pollution problem in Southern Indiana, I listened to my three year old daughter coughing herself awake in her bedroom,” Rodenberg wrote to the Evansville Courier & Press. “This is a habit she has developed over the course of this summer — sudden, uncontrollable coughing — and it happens every time we go outside to play and at night while she’s trying to sleep.” Rodenberg, who said she hadn’t realized the extent to which coal-fired power plants in her area were “poisoning our community,” concluded that “we need to be enraged.”

The second installment of Carbon Wars, published Oct. 11, looked at how enforcement of the Clean Air Act is hampered by federal and state cutbacks as well as political recalcitrance. The Huffington Post co-published the story, which featured a video from Albany, New York. McClatchy’s The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer ran a condensed version highlighting enforcement issues specific to North Carolina.

Reporter Jie Jenny Zou discussed the piece live Oct. 12 on SiriusXM’s POTUS, a bipartisan political show on Channel 124.

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