WisBusiness: S.C. Johnson CEO announces end to fight against Oak Creek plants




Like many of you, I was disheartened when the Wisconsin Supreme Court recently cleared the way for the construction of two coal-fired power plants at Oak Creek near our homes and workplaces.

Many people may wonder why a company such as SC Johnson would get involved in the decision to build power plants. The construction of a power plan is a very public decision that significantly impacts the environment, public health and the economy for generations to come.

That’s why my dad, Sam Johnson, four years ago put himself in the unenviable role of opposing WE Energies’ plan to build two new pulverized coal plants at Oak Creek. Dad thought it was his duty as a member of this community to speak up and question the wisdom of erecting outdated, polluting coal plants on the shores of Lake Michigan — a very delicate and important regional resource.

WE Energies’ plan was the wrong one and the wrong direction for our time.

So SC Johnson partnered with civic organizations and thousands of Wisconsin residents to fight WE Energies’ plan for these plants. Our reasons for taking up this cause are as valid today as they were when we started. The Supreme Court didn’t dispute them.

These plants will spew more than 20 tons of pollutants into our atmosphere yearly and draw more water from Lake Michigan than the entire Chicago metro area draws every day for drinking. The plants will further degrade our air quality in an area the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has already declared a “severe non-attainment area.” This facility will compromise public health and cost ratepayers $2.5 billion, more than other available, cleaner alternatives.

So, this new plant will be built from a process that:

–Completely excluded testimony offered by public health experts on the adverse human health effects — and costs — of increased emissions of pollutants.

–Mischaracterized the new coal plants and their new water intake structure as an existing facility, subjecting the plants to lower standards than apply to new plants.

–Failed to consider other cooling water technologies and other sites to reduce the adverse ecological effects on Lake Michigan, including the destruction of a sensitive shoreline bluff and billions of fish and other aquatic organisms in the intake system.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether burning high pulverized coal and using lake water for cooling are appropriate technologies for 2005 and beyond. However, I think it’s hard to disagree that the public is entitled to a thorough, robust evaluation of this option as well as alternatives.

We fought a valiant fight. We devoted countless hours and significant resources to the cause. Leading experts in ecology, energy generation and human health agreed with us. We joined forces with a legion of concerned citizens. We could continue to skirmish with WE Energies over the issue, but frankly the fight is over. The high court’s decision was heartbreaking, but it was final. So, we will stop pursuing our legal challenges of the air and water permits for the plant.

It is time to move forward not back. The question for all of us now is: Which way is forward?

We believe the future is not in 30-year-old technology that harms the environment, impairs human health and stifles the economy. Nor is it in a state approval process that allows something this outdated to be built.

The future is in 21st century innovations such as coal gasification and other technologies that hold the promise of cleaner, more efficient energy production, at lower costs.

It is time for our legislature and our Governor to take up this cause and ensure that Wisconsin’s citizens benefit from new energy innovations. Other states — including Minnesota, Ohio and Illinois — are moving in that direction. So must Wisconsin, if we are a state that wants to remain competitive for business and, much more important, a state that is a great place to live and raise a family.

I call on Governor Doyle to work with the legislative leadership to that end. We need to improve the state’s energy regulatory process. We must have laws the embrace new technology and move us toward alternative energy sources that are cheaper, cleaner and safer. That is the future. That should be our common goal.

I want to thank the residents of this great state who joined us in this fight. They exercised their rights and obligations in the finest fashion of our state and our republic. I am proud to have been a partner with them and I salute them. I hope their commitment will continue. I know mine will.