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Critics: Washington Post used misleading photo to bash coal plant

Critics are saying that The Washington Post published a misleading photo of a coal plant appearing to spew pollutants to accompany an op-ed about global warming by a liberal columnist.

Post columnist Eugene Robinson argued that President Obama should devote the remainder of his time in office to global warming, using executive power when necessary. In the print edition, Robinson’s article is accompanied by a photo of a coal-fired power plant against the setting sun, spewing out what looks like smoke and other pollutants.

The caption of the AP photo reads: “Silhouetted against the sky at dusk, excess steam, along with non-scrubbed pollutants, spew from the smokestacks at Westar Energy’s Jeffrey Energy Center coal-fired power plant near St. Marys, Kansas.”

But the blog JunkScience.com claims the caption is misleading and the coal plant is not emitting smoke, instead pumping out condensed water vapor.

Another photo of the same coal plant taken in the day shows white plumes coming out of the plant’s smokestacks, which is water vapor or steam.

“First, those billowing emissions from the smokestacks are water vapor — not carbon dioxide, which is invisible,” wrote blogger Steve Milloy. “Next, the photo was taken either at dawn or dusk, thereby darkening the billowing vapor to make it look ominous.”

The Washington Post has been criticized for using this photo before. Global warming skeptic Dave Burton wrote a letter to the newspaper’s reader representative, criticizing the use of the photo in March.

“That power plant has state-of-the-art ‘scrubbers,’ which which cost over $400 million, and which remove 95% of the SO2 and nearly all of the particulate matter,” wrote Burton. “Almost nothing visible is left except steam.”

According to Westar Energy, the coal plant’s SO2 scrubbers, which were completed in 2009, reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 95 percent, co-benefit mercury emissions by 25 percent and co-benefit particulate matter by 20 percent.

The scrubbers cost Westar $435 million and the company said that: “After completion of the scrubber project, a whitish plume can be seen coming out of each stack. The plume is water vapor.”

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