Dirty Prospect For Tampa Bay
In a fight to protect Tampa Bay from unprecedented levels of
pollution, the Sierra Club's Manatee-Sarasota group in Florida has
joined a broad coalition of environmental, sportfishing, religious and
civic groups to stop a power plant from burning a dangerous and dirty
A mixture of bitumen (a common petroleum distillate used in asphalt
production), water and emulsifying agents, orimulsion is currently
being burned in Japan, Canada and England, but nowhere near the level
proposed for Manatee County. Because orimulsion has not been researched
by the Environmental Protection Agency, very little is known about its
effects when burned, especially at projected levels of use.
Florida Power and Light is the first utility in the United States to
seek a permit to burn orimulsion since Manatee County voted in 1993 to
relax air pollution laws. The Club-backed Coalition Against Orimulsion
is challenging the permit in court and alerting local citizens to its
estimated impacts through flyers, forums and community meetings.
"Florida Power and Light wants to burn orimulsion because it will cut
their fuel costs," said Club leader Mary Sheppard, "but the rest of us
will end up paying the high costs of increased pollution."
If approved by Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, orimulsion will be shipped
into Port Manatee Fla., three to four times a week from Venezuela.
Should a spill occur, the substance does not float but instead
disperses in the top 10 feet of water, making conventional cleanup
impossible and environmental assessment difficult. At least one of its
emulsifying components has proved toxic to marine and freshwater
When burned for power, orimulsion significantly increases air
pollution. Even with emissions controls, the Florida Department of
Environmental Protection estimates that burning orimulsion at proposed
levels will result in a near-3,000 percent increase in carbon monoxide
and an over 200 percent increase in nitrogen oxides. "Not only are
nitrogen oxides linked to acid rain and an increase in respiratory
disease," said regional representative Theresa Woody, "but they are
cited by the Tampa Bay National Estuary Program as a major cause of
plant loss in the bay -- and a major threat to the food chain and most
marine life in the coastal Gulf of Mexico."
Gov. Chiles and the state legislature are expected to vote this month
to approve or deny the orimulsion permit. In the meantime, the
coalition is circulating a petition calling on the governor to reject
Florida Power and Light's application. "The major power companies in
this country are letting Florida Power and Light take the lead in
rolling back clean air protections in our watershed," said Woody. "If
it gets this permit," added Sheppard, "other power companies served by
major ports will go this route too, sending emissions hundreds of miles
and threatening the entire eastern seaboard."
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