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One Picture

One Picture

Photographer: Mitch Epstein
Subject: John E. Amos Power Plant
Where: Raymond City, West Virginia
Camera: Canham 4x5 field camera with 150mm Rodenstock lens
Film: Kodak color negative, 160 ASA

The massive cooling towers and 900-foot stacks of West Virginia’s notorious John E. Amos coal-fired power plant loom over neat backyards along the Kanawha River northwest of Charleston. This arresting image is from Mitch Epstein’s current project, “American Power,” a series of pictures illustrating “our cultural investment in energy.” The scene is also featured in “Ecotopia,” an exhibition at New York’s International Center of Photography that presents a rather apocalyptic view of how global environmental change is affecting our lives.

American Electric Power’s Amos facility, built in the early 1970s, has a reputation as one of the dirtiest power plants in the country and West Virginia’s worst polluter. With some 80 stations online, AEP is America’s largest generator of electricity. And the Amos facility is the biggest in its system, burning 23,000 tons of coal a day to produce 2,900 megawatts. Most of that coal is strip-mined using the controversial mountaintop removal process.

Amos also ranked first in the nation for increasing its annual emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) by 6,393,582 tons—or 57 percent—from 1995 to 2003. That’s the equivalent of putting an additional 1,116,783 average-size cars on the state’s roads. The plant’s increases in soot-forming sulfur dioxide (SO2) and smog-forming nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in the same period ranked fourth and seventh, respectively.

“It’s a numbers game,” says AEP spokesman Joe Haynes. “They’re big because the power plant is so big.” To AEP’s credit, the company is belatedly investing nearly $1.5 billion to reduce NOx and SO2 emissions from the Amos stacks to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules. Carbon releases from power plants are unregulated. Footnote: The National Clear the Air campaign tells us that West Virginia has the highest per capita death rate in America from health problems related to coal-powered energy plants.—Les Line

Four additional photos from the recent exhibition look at how global environmental change affects our lives.

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