Polluting facilities like power plants have long been disproportionately located near disadvantaged communities, including lower-income areas and communities of color that face higher pollution burdens than their white counterparts. Pennsylvania’s existing 88 power plants fueled by oil, natural gas and coal exhibited this pattern of disparate and unfair location in disadvantaged communities.
Now, energy companies in Pennsylvania have begun building natural gas-fired power plants that will reinforce the historic environmental injustice of the state’s existing fossil fuel-fired power plants. Pennsylvania has been ground zero in the controversial and environmentally destructive technique of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) used to drill for natural gas. This fracking boom has threatened the health and quality of life of Pennsylvania's rural communities. Since 2011, energy companies have proposed building 48 new power plants fueled by fracked gas. The surge in power plant construction locks in reliance on dirty fossil fuels, encourages more destructive fracking (especially in the shale plays of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia) and contributes to increased climate pollution.
Pennsylvania does not need and should not build these plants. Pennsylvania is exporting more power to other states than the state’s residential customers have used. Energy companies are building new gas plants largely to generate power for out-of-state customers: most of the proposed plants promote their connection to the interstate power grid, and around half emphasize their ability to sell electricity outside of Pennsylvania.
The shale gas industry is promoting other ways to sop up surplus gas that affects Pennsylvania communities, including exporting gas to Europe through the contraversial Mariner East 2 pipeline and Marcus Hook export terminal in Pennsylvania and building a new petrochemical manufacturing cluster in the Ohio River Valley that would process natural gas and natural gas liquids into chemicals that can make plastics and other products. The natural gas, electric and chemical industries tout the infrastructure expansion and increased exports as a panacea to an overabundance of low-priced gas that can only become profitable if new buyers (power plants or petrochemical facilities), new markets (exports) or new products (plastics) drive up gas demand.
Food & Water Watch studied the location of Pennsylvania power plants (coal, oil and natural gas) and found that the existing power plants were disproportionately located near disadvantaged communities — areas with lower incomes, higher economic stress, lower educational levels and/or communities of color. The proposed gas plants would only reinforce the environmental injustice of siting polluting power plants in more marginalized communities, including rural areas.
This comprehensive analysis examined demographic characteristics (including race, income, indicators of economic stress and education levels) of the census tracts within a three-mile radius of Pennsylvania’s existing and proposed power plants. The results describe the environmental injustice of gas plant locations in three basic ways.
First, the study compared the demographics of the population living under the three-mile radius surrounding power plants to the overall Pennsylvania population. Second, it analyzed the communities (based on census tracts) that were predominantly covered by the power plants’ three-mile footprints and compared the census tracts (by demographic traits) covered by the power plants’ footprints to their statewide distribution. Finally, the study examined the proportion of census tracts (by demographic trait) that were within three miles of one or more plants — essentially, the chance that any type of neighborhood might be near a power plant.