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New Orleans City Council Weighs Public Health in Decision on Entergy’s Proposed New Orleans East Power Plant

In October 2016, the Louisiana Public Health Institute (LPHI) and the Alliance for Affordable Energy publicly released a health impact assessment (HIA), the first HIA on energy production released in the Gulf South, about a power plant Entergy New Orleans has proposed to build at the site of the shuttered Michoud plant in New Orleans East.

The HIA team worked for 18 months with New Orleans East communities to determine potential health impacts of the proposal and formulate recommendations for the New Orleans City Council members to consider in their decision-making process. Since the HIA was released in the fall of 2016, the proceedings before the Council have included multiple rounds of testimony from Entergy and a group of concerned organizations collaborating as the “Public Interest Intervenors.”

The latest round of hearings and testimony are scheduled for December 15-22, 2017. An evidentiary hearing, which is open to the public and begins most days at 9 am, will be conducted at the Pan American Life Building (601 Poydras St.). Issues related to air pollution, subsidence, climate, and other potential health impacts will be discussed during this hearing.

As part of these rounds of meetings, the Intervenors, comprised of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, Sierra Club, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, and Louisiana 350, have submitted testimony from Dr. George Thurston, an epidemiologist specifically studying the health impacts of air pollutants.

In his testimony, Dr. Thurston highlighted the distinct concerns related to natural gas combustion in power plants, describing negative health outcomes for vulnerable populations: “This may also be especially true in the case of natural gas-fired power plant particles because that PM2.5 is composed of very small ultrafine particles … There are two known characteristics of natural gas-fired power plant particles that make them likely to have especially strong health effects, on a per pound basis, than most ambient PM2.5: 1) they have a higher percentage of ultrafine particles, as compared with other fossil-fuel options. These ultrafine particles have very high surface areas, relative to other fossil-fuel emissions, and penetrate deep into the lungs when breathed; and, 2) they, like other fossil fuel combustion particles, contain a high percentage of toxic transition metals. These characteristics tend to increase the dose and toxicity of gas-fired power plant particles, relative to most other ambient particles.”

Additionally, he said “…because natural-gas-fired sources emit a much greater percentage of the particles as ultrafine particles, which have a much higher surface area per mass than larger particles, it is likely that there is a much greater effect per pound of PM2.5 emitted by gas-fired sources than for PM2.5 emitted by sources burning other fossil fuels.  Older adults, those economically disadvantaged, children, and those with pre-existing disease are at especially high risk … “Thus, the potential health effects of PM2.5 emissions from the new plant cannot be dismissed. Because of their high ultrafine fraction, their composition, and the likely co-presence of acidic vapors, they potentially could be more toxic than other forms of particulate matter.”

Criteria pollutants, including particulate matter, were discussed in the HIA, and their public health impacts have become an important piece of the conversation around this plant, especially considering environmental justice for the communities adjacent to the site. The HIA also uncovered concerning and pressing findings on the proposed plant’s impacts on subsidence and flooding in New Orleans East, as well as health impacts related to climate change.  Each of these issues will be considered by the Council ahead of a decision, currently expected in February, 2018.

“It is critical that City Council consider the negative health impacts this proposed power plant will have on the New Orleans East Community,” said Lisanne Brown, LPHI’s Director of Evaluation and Research. “The health risks could include increased risk of respiratory illness and asthma and cardiovascular disease, along with impacts from increased flood risk and vulnerability to climate change.”

The HIA was supported by a grant from the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Health Impact Project, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation or The Pew Charitable Trusts.

To access the full report and additional documents that were released, click the links below.

Decision Maker Report

Groundwater (Subsidence) Report

Full HIA Report