Beneath the Plume

As the global climate change debate intensifies around the world, living in close proximity to coal burning power plants is a daily reality for many communities in the rural United States.

The James Gavin power plant is located literally in the middle of the town of Cheshire, Ohio. It is the largest power plant in Ohio, and burns up to 25,000 tons of coal a day at full capacity. In 2002, the residents of Cheshire filed a lawsuit against AEP after suffering health impacts caused by sulfuric acid emissions from the power plant. AEP responded by buying out the entire community for $20 million, in exchange for agreeing not to sue the company for any future health problems linked to the power plants emissions. Most took the buyout, and the power plant continues to operate. The nearby town of Racine, Ohio, population 750, is within a 10-mile radius of 4 coal burning power plants, including the Gavin plant. Two of these power plants are less than two miles from the town’s elementary and high school.

This essay explores these two small towns in Meigs County, Ohio, and the intimate yet complex connection they have with an industry that is both a lifeline to their livelihood, and a threat to the larger global climate. 

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