Tag: Coal Ash
Crossposted with TheGreenGrok.com.In the words of Alice, “It would be so nice if something made sense.”
Alice, of course, was talking about the strange wonders she encountered after tumbling into the rabbit hole. But you don’t have to fall into a rabbit hole to encounter uncommon nonsense. Following the antics of our Congressmen and Congresswomen while passing a continuing resolution on the budget does quite nicely, thank you.
The House Goes on Record in Favor of Air Pollution
In a 249-to-177 vote, the House approved Amendment 466, proposed by Texas Representative Ted Poe (R), that prohibits funds from being used by the Environmental Protection Agency to implement and enforce any requirements or issue permits for stationary source emissions of six greenhouse gas pollutants [pdf] (i.e., carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons, and perfluorocarbons). OK, no surprise there.
The House also forbade expenditures “to develop, promulgate, evaluate, implement, provide oversight to, or backstop total maximum daily loads or watershed implementation plans for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.” I find this to be an elegant solution to the annual dead zone in the Chesapeake Bay (continue reading…)
Activists try to stop a massive coal plant from being built in South Africa
The United States is poised to help lock South Africa into dependence on dirty energy for decades to come.
The U.S. Export-Import bank (Ex-Im) is the official export credit agency of the U.S. and a good friend of dirty energy (continue reading…)
Editor’s Note: Due to the holidays, the Weekly Mulch will appear on Thursday afternoon both this week and next week. We’ll resume regular Friday morning posts in 2011.
by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger
It’s the naughty children who get coal in their stockings, and it seems like Americans must have been naughty this year. Because across the country, we’re awash with coal, carcinogens, and other toxins. And our government is not doing to much to change that. Waste not After the massive coal ash spill in Tennessee two years ago, the EPA began working on more stringent regulation of the waste, a byproduct of coal mining. But, as Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones, the industry has been pressuring the administration to adopts weaker regulations than it could. “Two years after the largest toxic spill in the nation’s history, there is still no regulation of deadly coal ash dumps–nor is there clear direction from EPA on the timing or content of a final rule,” Lisa Evans, senior administrative counsel for Earthjustice, told Sheppard. “For the communities enduring damage from aging ponds and leaking landfills, time has run out. There is no reason on earth that their health should be compromised by such an easily avoidable harm.” What’s in the water? Coal ash is one of those pollutants that clearly poses a problem. It looks dangerous. But not all pollutants are so obviously dangerous. This week, for instance, the Environmental Working Group, an environmental health non-profit group, released a report showing that much of the country’s tap water is contaminated with the carcinogen hexavalent chromium, with levels high enough to pose a risk to human health. “Exposure in tap water has been linked to cancers of the stomach and gastrointestinal tract in both animals and people,” Rebecca Sutton, a scientist for the Environmental Working Group, wrote at AlterNet. Thirty-one of the 35 cities that the group examined had dangerously high levels of the contaminants in the tap water. How did this happen? As Sarah Parsons explains at Change.org, “The reason so much chromium-6 winds up in tap water is that industries spew it into waterways, utilities fail to test for the substance, and the EPA doesn’t regulate it in drinking water.” What the EPA does do, Parsons reports, is limit the total chromium in drinking water, “the combined amount of hexavalent chromium and trivalent chromium.” She explains, “The problem is that trivalent chromium is actually good for you–in fact, it’s necessary for metabolism. Hexavalent chromium, on the other hand, is a noxious carcinogen.” Moving forward These prevalent toxins are just two reminders that, for all their successes in recent decades, environmentalists still have much work ahead of them. How should they approach that work? Earth Island Journal’s Jason Mark, considering lessons from the 1980s-era environmental leaders, who focused on moving toward the center and working within the confines of D.C. politics, offers this thought: “The new leaders of 2010 say what we need is less focused group messaging and inside-the-Beltway maneuverings, and more heartfelt spirit and energy directed encouraged at the grassroots. I hope their instincts are right. Because at this point I don’t think we can wait another 25 years to figure this stuff out.” This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.
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On a cold, rainy California morning — the shortest, darkest day of the year — a ray of summer sunshine showed up in my mailbox all the way from New Jersey. It’s been that kind of year. A few months ago, I wrote about how my daughter Olivia wasn’t able to take “The Test” during our family’s annual trip home to the New Jersey shoreline. My folks live near the water, and the rule has always been that until you prove you can swim across the lagoon and back, you can’t play outside without wearing a life preserver.But because Barnegat Bay was infested with stinging sea nettles last summer, Olivia never got a chance to prove herself. The sea nettles were there because of nitrogen pollution from storm-water runoff — a serious problem that might turn around now that the state legislature has approved four bills aimed at saving Barnegat Bay. I got the news on the first day of winter.The New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club and other local environmental groups worked hard for years to achieve that victory. It’s good for the bay, good for the local economy (Barnegat Bay provides more than $3.3 billion in economic benefits annually to New Jersey), and good for kids who just want to pass a swimming test. In 2010 we saw both a huge environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and a dismal failure by our elected leaders in Washington, D.C., on climate and energy legislation. But the better story of 2010, the one I much prefer telling, is the true tale of ordinary citizens demanding that toxic coal-ash waste be regulated in Texas, impassioned activists putting the brakes on reckless natural-gas drilling practices in New York, and strong grassroots organizers helping the nation move away from dirty energy sources and toward a clean-energy economy that’s already creating good jobs in California. This week’s victory in New Jersey is part of that story. The Sierra Club has always used both a bottom-up and a top-down approach. We’ll never stop holding our nation’s leaders accountable. But we have no intention of waiting around for them to act, either. It’s winter now, but summer’s coming — and we’ll be ready.
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Despite President Obama’s campaign pledges of government transparency and limiting the influence of K Street lobbyists on policymaking, coal industry lobbyists got their stockings stuffed with wishes this year in Washington. Climate and energy legislation is dead, the Environmental Protection Agency is entering its 21st year of failing to regulate mercury emissions from coal plants, coal ash regulations are delayed indefinitely, mountaintop removal mining continues, and the myth of “clean coal” is alive and well thanks to continuing praise by President Obama and Vice President Biden. Happy Holidays! Here’s a lump of coal, no two, and some coal ash slurry to wash it down with. Don’t worry, it’s “clean coal!”The Coal Grinches aren’t here to steal Christmas gifts from Whoville residents. They’re here to steal a safe climate, clean water and breathable air from every American man, woman and child. And we won’t know when they’ve come and gone, thanks to the White House’s apparent neglect (or shutdown?) of the “open government” records of its meetings with lobbyists. Arianna Huffington recently pointed out statements that Barack Obama made about government transparency as a candidate and early on in his presidency, noting that he hasn’t followed through on his rhetoric, and in fact seems headed down the well-worn path laid by the transparency-trampling Bush administration.
Back in the year 2007, B.W. (Before WikiLeaks), Barack Obama waxed lyrical about government and the internet: “We have to use technology to open up our democracy. It’s no coincidence that one of the most secretive administrations in our history has favored special interest and pursued policy that could not stand up to the sunlight.” …Not long after the election, in announcing his “Transparency and Open Government” policy, the president proclaimed: “Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset.”
Yet here we are closing the books on 2010 and the public is witnessing shockingly little openness and accountability from this, the “transparency” administration. The Obama White House has opened its doors wide for coal lobbyists, and his regulatory agencies are struggling to stand up to the onslaught of coal industry lobbying dollars. Witness the recent and repeated delays and setbacks on critical regulations for dangerous coal industry practices that threaten public health and the environment. Let’s take a look at coal industry lobbying efforts targeting the White House, or more specifically, at what little we know about just how extensive the reach of coal power players is under Obama’s watch. OMB “Open Government” Records Scant To Begin With, Increasingly BarrenAccording to the Office of Management and Budget’s “open” meeting records database, the last publicly recorded meeting between the White House, EPA staff and coal industry lobbyists took place on April 2, 2010. Since then, we’ve seen zero OMB disclosure of further meetings with coal lobbyists. (Who thinks there haven’t been any?) In fact, there are no records of meetings with outside lobbyists on any solid waste issue since September 22, 2010. Worse, there are few or zero records of any 2010 meeting activity for other White House offices as well. (We know they are holding meetings, after all, that’s what they do.)OMB records of meetings involving EPA staff and outside lobbyists trail off in May 2010. And the OMB’s disclosure page for the EPA administrator office’s meetings with outside lobbyists contains a sole archival entry from June 2006. (While the EPA is still reporting the daily schedules of its senior managers on its own, that cumbersome presentation does not distinguish between events, failing to parse actual meetings with outside lobbyists and White House staff, or to disclose the materials distributed to attendees as the OMB’s WhiteHouse.gov records are designed to do.) Beyond what isn’t included in OMB’s meeting records, it is worth noting what is there is more than a bit outdated. For example, the scandal-ridden Minerals Management Service is still listed as part of the Department of Interior, even though it was torn apart and renamed in May by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in the wake of multiple embarrassing revelations about MMS’s close relationship with industry lobbyists. Cass Sunstein, the administrator of OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), has repeatedly extolled the virtues of government transparency and the public’s right to know. But it seems that a potentially useful tool designed by Sunstein’s office to allow the public access to basic information about meetings between White House and agency staff and outside lobbyists has either been neglected or abandoned entirely. This lack of disclosure appears to defy the “Open Government Directive” launched a year ago this month by the Obama administration. In practice, our window into the Obama adminstration’s meetings with lobbyists is currently draped with blackout curtains.Coal Lobbyists Swarmed White House Last WinterThe best indication of how easily coal lobbyists are getting their message across to White House staff comes from last winter, when the coal ash issue was causing a rift between the White House and EPA. An October 2010 report produced by DeSmogBlog and PolluterWatch documented a lobbying swarm by coal ash interests involving dozens of secretive meetings with White House staff between October 2009 and April 2010. The result? The coal lobbyists’ White House blitz achieved in short order exactly what the industry wanted by delaying federal regulation of coal ash waste indefinitely. Keep in mind that EPA administrator Lisa Jackson first promised a rapid regulatory response on coal ash during her confirmation hearing in January 2009 (on the heels of the December 2008 TVA disaster). Jackson followed through partially by proposing coal ash rules sixteen months ago, when she promised to issue a decision by the end of 2009.
“We’ve promised that we will address regulation for coal ash by the end of the year ,” Jackson said. “And so, by the end of the year, we’ll make that regulatory determination as to whether or not it’s hazardous.”
Yet the EPA just announced another delay this week, stating that the agency has no idea when it will get around to issuing its ruling on whether to classify coal ash as hazardous waste. The never-ending coal ash battle demonstrates the immense success of coal industry lobbyists in 2010, and yet coal ash is only one — albeit a significant one — of the ongoing threats posed by our addiction to dirty, dangerous coal. There’s also the continued assault on Appalachian communities and waterways posed by mountaintop removal mining. A wise man once remarked:
“We’re tearing up the Appalachian Mountains because of our dependence on fossil fuels. We have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal than simply blowing the tops off mountains.”
What happened to that guy anyway? Oh, he’s in the White House now. That was Barack Obama at a campaign rally in Lexington, Kentucky in August of 2007. How long will President Obama let the coal industry’s lobbyists dictate his policy response to the number one climate killing fossil fuel? How many more pollution-related deaths will result thanks to the lobbying muscle of polluters who are holding Obama’s regulatory agencies captive?When will the Obama administration provide the records of all the meetings it has held with coal industry lobbyists in 2010 – and all other industry lobbyists for that matter?The Hill recently reported on a “thaw” in the Obama administration’s relations with K Street.
“…since Democrats suffered heavy losses in November, lobbyists have seen administration officials more willing to work with business leaders, who are their clients.”
If this is what a thaw looks like, the chilly period sure was balmy. Get ready for a lobbying heat wave in 2011. Will the Obama team, cowed by coal lobbyists, stand by and let Lisa Jackson get smacked around by the Tea Party thugs in Congress? If so, who is to be held accountable for the added deaths and impaired lives due to delayed coal pollution control? Congress or Obama himself?
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‘Tis the season for low expectations on climate change and other global sustainability challenges. Yet there’s no reason to think our stockings will forever be stuffed with coal.
Enormous worldwide business innovation is taking place to build a clean sustainable economy and it’s just a matter of time before it translates into huge financial rewards and a new business paradigm.
The question is whether that moment arrives quickly enough, and that in turn depends as much on Wall Street’s economic pulleys and levers as government policies. The bad news is that today’s Wall Street is simply too short-sighted, rewarding immediate payoffs over forward thinking that deals with long-term environmental, social and business challenges.
Strong carbon-reducing policies are unlikely to emerge from climate negotiations in Cancun and the new Congress in Washington. Yet many businesses and investors understand they must move now to develop products and services with a low carbon footprint that use fewer resources, whether fossil fuels or water.
In just the past few weeks, some of the nation’s largest utilities, automakers and technology firms have announced bold plans to upgrade their offerings with next-generation technologies for electric cars, a smart grid, energy storage and zero-emission renewable energy.
“A clean energy portfolio, based on sound economics, creates compelling value and provides a clear competitive advantage,” says Exelon CEO John Rowe, who recently unveiled a $5 billion plan to decarbonize the utility’s power supplies with energy efficiency, wind energy and the smart grid while shuttering several coal-fired plants.
Major investors are also greening their portfolios. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System recently announced plans to target $500 million at environmentally-friendly companies. “This strategy will allow us to become more directly involved in positive change by top performers that have improved share value and also done good for the environment,” said CalPERS board president Rob Feckner.
In addition, there is a growing evidence that investors using environmental, social and governance (ESG) analysis in their decision-making outperform traditionally managed funds that often ignore these issues. A new RLP Capital analysis of the eight largest traditional mutual funds and the eight largest ESG funds showed that the ESG funds had significantly higher returns over the last three years. ESG is also gaining traction among investors; just over $3 trillion is now invested in funds using ESG analysis, a 13 percent jump from 2007.
These trends are encouraging, but the stark reality is that sustainable capitalism is still a long way from being embedded in the U.S. and global economy. CalPERS’ $500 million green investment sounds impressive, but it’s still only a tiny fraction of the pension fund’s $200 billion in assets. Exelon can now boast of being the nation’s largest wind energy provider, but its clean energy investments pale in comparison to what Exxon and other oil companies are spending – $200 billion! – extracting oil from highly viscous oil sands in Canada – a process with far-reaching adverse environmental impacts.
So what will it take to put the 21st century economy on a more sustainable path?
Of course, government policies that reward clean technologies and discourage high-polluting ones are a big part of the solution. But ending myopic practices on Wall Street and across the rest of the economy are equally critical.
Our financial markets remain far too biased towards short-term returns and far too blind to less obvious long-term risks like climate change, water scarcity and other resource constraints.The subprime mortgage meltdown and financial collapse was an exceedingly painful reminder of such ‘short-termism’ and the deep, systemic failure of long-term risk accountability economy-wide.
Building a sustainable economy means that many below-the-radar rules and practices for dealing with long-term risks like climate change, oil sands production and water scarcity must dramatically change. Some practices I’d like to change today include:
* Incentive structures for investors and corporate executives that reward short-term performance and quarterly returns, while ignoring climate change and other longer-term business risks that threaten shareholder value.
* U.S. and Canadian accounting rules that allow highly damaging environmental impacts and future cleanup costs from oil sands production to be left off oil company balance sheets.
* Credit rating agency practices that pay scant attention to growing water scarcity risks when rating municipal bonds that water utilities use to finance vast infrastructure projects.
* Mainstream investor policies and practices that routinely ignore climate change risks – regulatory, litigation, physical and competitive, along with major opportunities – as part of their due diligence for evaluating companies.
Until these practices change, the all-too-incremental progress we’ve seen to date in building a clean, more sustainable 21st century economy will not be enough to ensure a safe and prosperous future.
It is essential that all market players – companies, investors, accounting firms, rating agencies, policymakers and more – start acknowledging the colossal long-term risks we face and get to work on comprehensive solutions that will mitigate such global threats.
We can seize a great opportunity now – aggressive energy efficiency measures alone could create up to 750,000 jobs in the U.S. in the next decade – or pay a big price later. Seems like a clear choice, no?
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The comment period for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed coal ash safeguards is winding down, with the deadline being next Friday, Nov. 19th. (Have you submitted your comment yet?) But just because the deadline is approaching does not mean we’re slowing our action on coal ash. It’s toxic and must be treated as such.That’s why this week the Sierra Club opened a hotline to help residents report suspected contamination or spills of toxic coal ash across the country. Residents who believe there is toxic coal ash contamination near their homes either from an unreported spill or through leaking ash dumps are asked to call the toll-free hotline: 1-888-314-7450Reported incidents will be passed on to the proper authorities for investigation and mitigation. Meanwhile, residents in Kingston, Tenn., are still coping with the aftermath of toxic coal ash almost two years after the massive Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal ash spill there.Alexandra Cousteau just released this very good video about her visit to Kingston in September of this year to see how the recovery is going. We can help prevent future coal ash disasters like the one in Kingston. Coal ash is hazardous, but less strictly controlled than household garbage.Tell EPA to adopt enforceable federal safeguards to protect our communities.
Crossposted with www.TheGreenGrok.com.
The energy industry is pulling out the stops against proposed government regulations.
Remember when the enactment of climate legislation by the 111th Congress seemed within reach? (See here, here and here.) For those of us once sanguine about the prospects, it became an exercise in counting chickens that never hatched.
There were lots of reasons for the reversal, but certainly staunch opposition from the energy industry played a significant role.
Now, with climate legislation off the table (for this year at least), the energy industry appears to be setting its sights on a new target: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its proposed regulations and rules. According to the New York Times, “[coal] industry officials believe they face a hostile administration that could seriously harm their business with a range of new federal regulations in greenhouse gas emissions, mountaintop removal mining, air pollution, coal ash disposal, and mine safety.” In the words of one industry official, coal is facing a “regulatory jihad.”
If you’re facing annihilation by jihadists, you gotta pull out all the stops and the energy industry appears to be doing just that — pouring tens of millions of dollars into the current election. (See here, here, and here.)
In addition to dollars, the energy industry is marching out a series of reports predicting bad news for the nation’s electricity system if EPA goes ahead with its regulatory plans. The basic argument [pdf] is that the new regulations will force utilities to “accelerate the retirement of a significant number of fossil-fueled power plants” with dire consequences. To wit:
A May report from the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America concludes that “a number of impending environmental regulations have created uncertainties about the ability of certain coal-fired power plants (utility owned and merchant owned) to remain profitable into the extended future.” The trade group predicts that putting into effect two new regulations proposed by EPA would mean the retirement of some 50 gigawatts of coal-fired electrical generating capacity. (The total generating capacity in the United States is currently about 1,100 gigawatts with 340 gigawatts coming from coal [pdf].)An analysis from September by the Scotland-based energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie predicts that up to 60 gigawatts will be retired over the next 10 years from four new regulations. And most recently a report [pdf] released in October by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), an industry-funded group that oversees the reliability of the nation’s power grid and enforces reliability standards, concludes that the promulgation of four new rules proposed by EPA aimed at protecting air and water quality will cause “up to a 78 GW reduction of coal, oil, and gas-fired generating capacity and potentially undermine the stability of the national grid during periods of peak demand.*
Not surprisingly the Wall Street Journal has also gotten into the act, using the NERC report to blast EPA, the White House, and their “covert program” to use regulations to advance their “carbon agenda.” “Supposedly,” the editors of the WSJ write, “all this is separate from greenhouse gasses, but the White House and the EPA are clearly targeting fossil fuels and coal in particular to achieve via rule-making what even the Democratic 111th Congress has rejected as legislation. As much as a fifth of the perfectly functioning coal-fired fleet will be forced into early retirement, to be replaced with a largely more expensive energy mix, especially natural gas.”
And politicians have not been slow to enter the fray, “declaring war on the regulatory state,” as Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) did in a recent op-ed, for its “aggressive actions.”
Holy climate conspiracy! Is it really time for Congress to enact articles of war against a federal agency? Well let’s take a look.
Stealth Climate Agenda?
According to the WSJ, all the supposed regs being proposed by EPA are just a smoke screen for a stealth campaign to clamp down on greenhouse gas (i.e., carbon) emissions. Let’s take a look at the regs actually being discussed:
rule revisions to minimize the impact of thermal power plants that draw cooling water from surface water (read related post);rules to dispose of coal-ash waste safely from coal-fired power plants (read related post);new Clean Air Act standards (the so-called MACT rule) for power plants that emit hazardous air pollutants like mercury; and new Clean Air Act standards [pdf] for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions that cross state lines and form fine-particle and ground-level ozone pollution.
I don’t know about you, but I think a reasonable argument can be made that we need these regulations. For example: Why regs on the disposal of coal ash? Did I hear anyone mention the coal-ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee? And why regs on hazardous pollutants? Well, let’s see … how do you feel about eating fish laced with mercury? In the words of an EPA spokesperson the agency is just “doing its job … to minimize the pollution.”
Power Plant Retirements
OK, there appears to be a general consensus that if EPA’s regs go forward, we are looking at retiring 50 to 80 gigawatts of electrical generating capacity in the United States. But will that be as bad as some have made it out to be?
First of all, a significant number of the projected retirements are plants that are old and inefficient. And some of these are on the chopping block anyway … to the tune of about 45 gigawatts through 2035.
What to Do About Lost Generating Capacity?
Retiring power plants is not the whole story. We can plan and react. Even the authors of the NERC report admit the situation is far from disastrous; given enough time, we can plan for these retirements and act accordingly. How?
Excess capacity. We already have a lot of excess capacity in the system: some 100 gigawatts worth. NERC reports [pdf] that the scenario that retires 33 gigawatts by 2015 without replacement would only change the reserve margin** by four percent on average — putting only one of the eight regions below a 15-percent excess capacity target.New Capacity. There are planned additions already in the works between now and 2013, which would add another 60 gigawatts to capacity.Efficiency. Achievable energy-efficiency scenarios have the potential to reduce energy consumption by seven to 20 percent in 2015.Demand Response. Demand response could reduce peak demand between five and 20 percent (or 45-150 gigawatts) in 2015 depending on what degree of incentives and which programs are deployed.
So let’s please get past all the hype about jihads and war and covert programs, and calmly focus on the real question. Do we want to pay what will likely be modest increases in electricity costs for the benefits, including economic ones, of a healthier populace and a healthier environment? Now, discuss amongst yourselves.
* For planning purposes, roughly 15 percent excess capacity is held as a reserve margin to ensure the reliability of supply especially during peak demand. The reserve margin varies by region. More info here [pdf].
** Margin from the Adjusted Potential Capacity Resources (APCR) reserve method [pdf].
In general, the planned and excess capacity is in the right regions to cover the loss in old generating capacity.
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The recent profiles published in the Sierra Club’s Compass blog of communities affected by toxic coal-ash waste sites can make grim reading. Some excerpts:
Coal ash is laced with dozens of toxic chemicals like mercury, selenium, lead, and arsenic. Last week, I toured a local community located next to a coal ash dump outside Asheville, NC — you could see the ash from the dump site coating the siding and windowsills on houses up and down the street. When it rains, the poisons from the dump site can migrate into local drinking water supplies. Imagine if an international terrorist organization injected arsenic into our drinking water. It’d be an act of war. But for coal-burning utilities, it’s just part of the business.
What’s even more scary is that most of us live a lot closer to a toxic coal-ash waste site than we realize. There are more than 2,000 of these toxic sites, after all — all over the country. More than 600 of them are “wet dump” sites like the one that failed catastrophically in Kingston, Tennessee, two years ago — and forty-nine of those are considered so hazardous that the EPA believes an accident would result in the loss of human life.
So we should all be glad that the people in coal-ash communities are fighting back. The EPA has been holding public hearings around the country since August 30th on how coal-ash waste should be regulated. (Currently, household garbage is regulated more strictly than coal-ash waste.) Not surprisingly, people from communities already affected by toxic coal ash have packed these hearings. I attended the one in Dallas, and people came from Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and all across Texas, in spite of torrential downpours and floods.
But the folks on the front lines need help from the rest of us. Coal-ash waste may be a local issue, but it’s a nationwide local issue. We need to spread the outrage of the people who have been immediately affected to everyone who’s at risk — which includes a lot of people who don’t even know yet what toxic coal ash is.
So, besides sending your own comment on coal-ash waste directly to the EPA, why not take a moment to let your friends on Facebook know that you’ve got their backs? The Sierra Club’s Coal Ash Tool will show you which of your Facebook friends live near toxic coal-ash sites — and make it easy for you both to alert them and tell them how to take action. Because, in this case, what your friends don’t know could someday hurt them.
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Mary Anne Hitt, the director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign, is a new mom and has some words for those trying to greenwash schoolkids and college students: As a new mom, I’m paying more attention these days to how big companies are trying to influence our kids. I just learned that one of the biggest blockers of climate action in the U.S. is now bringing its obstructionism to your kid’s middle school classroom. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy just released an energy education guide for teachers of 5th – 8th grade. The guide explains to kids where our nation currently gets its energy, and then asks this question:
Outside the classroom, the Chamber is working overtime to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from doing anything about global warming pollution. Of course, EPA would never put this nation in a position where “one of our energy sources was suddenly unavailable.” But that doesn’t stop the Chamber from suggesting that scary scenario to our nation’s kids and their teachers. The Chamber has long opposed any action on curbing global warming pollution and other dangerous emissions from dirty power plants, whether it comes via action from the EPA or Congress. Now they’re focusing on instilling their wrong beliefs into our kids. Just look at the focus of their Institute for 21st Century Energy:
Sounds innocent enough, but after watching the Chamber spend millions against any action on cleaning up the dirty power plants that poison our air and water and cause global warming, it seems that we all know their real “common sense energy strategy” – make sure polluters can keep on polluting at current levels, regardless of the impact on today’s kids and future generations. Right now EPA is proposing several safeguards to protect Americans from the pollution caused by coal-fired power plants – including rules that would treat coal ash (the by-product of burning coal for electricity) as the toxic waste that it is. EPA officials have already said that living near a toxic coal ash site can be worse for kids’ health than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. The Chamber doesn’t like these proposals, or any others that would require utilities to clean up coal pollution, and they are working overtime to stop them. And this isn’t the first time that the Chamber or the coal industry has directly targeted kids or young people with a misleading pro-coal message.
In early 2009, the Coal Education Development and Resource of Southern West Virginia, Inc., taught students to appreciate the destructive practice of mountaintop removal coal mining. (If you’re not familiar with mountaintop removal coal mining and its threats, read more here).
In mid-2009, coal industry front-group Families Organized to Represent the Coal Economy released coloring books for kids.
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (who we remember for hiring a firm that forged letters from interest groups to Congressional representatives about global warming legislation) is currently running a bus tour to our nation’s college campuses to teach them about so-called “clean” coal. They just hit up West Virginia University.
The coal industry gave so much money to the University of Kentucky that the administration renamed a dorm as Wildcat Coal Lodge last year.
The list goes on and on. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the coal industry want you to believe that coal will not affect your or your children’s health, and that any action by EPA will destroy the economy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. So for my new baby and the rest of America’s kids, I’d like to add my own discussion question to the Chamber’s energy education guide: “What do you think could happen if we don’t shift from coal and oil to clean energy sources, and families find that pollution makes the basic essentials of life suddenly unavailable (e.g., clean air, clean water, etc.)?”
This is the latest in our series of community coal ash profiles. This piece was written by Sierra Club Apprentice Lydia Avila.The community of Joliet, Illinois, identifies as many things – Midwestern, humble, and hard-working. Yet they also identify with something much less positive: being collateral damage. According to Joliet residents, they don’t even merit a second thought to Midwest Generation, a coal-fired power plant that has been dumping toxic coal ash near Joliet for over 40 years.Coal ash is the byproduct of burning coal for electricity, and it’s having a major impact on Joliet. Residents say if you were to spend a week in Joliet you would find yourself driving through coal ash fog; a stroll in your yard would cause you to come back covered in “black stuff” and/or yellow particulates; you wouldn’t be able to drink or bathe in the water; and your clothes would come out of the washer tinted orange and black from the chemicals in the water. If you spent time in Joliet, residents say, you would see this “black stuff” covering your car, yard and house on a daily basis, and you certainly could not fish in any of the lakes, rivers or streams in the area. But, they added, even worse are the health effects that you and your loved ones would experience: nose bleeds, blisters, skin infections, migraines, coughing, gagging, mercury poisoning, neurological disorders, to name a few. And, these would culminate in the form of asthma, kidney transplants, heart transplants, lymphoma, neurological disorders, seizures, rare forms of leukemia, emergency hysterectomies, and lupus (again, just to name a few).Tammy Thompson knows the health effects first-hand – calling herself and her family part of that collateral damage. Her six-year-old daughter Faith has suffered the effects of living near a coal plant since she was born. Faith’s doctor diagnosed her with Grave’s Disease and recommended that she, and all the children in Joliet, be routinely tested for lead and mercury poisoning.Thompson recalls times when she often had to struggle to gain composure in her car, while her daughter in the backseat would ask, “What’s that smell, mommy?” and then complain of headaches. She saw her daughter suffer from blisters and sores every time they bathed her in a storage tub filled with bottled water following recommendations from her doctor, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) and others. Yet, for a long time, their health problems remained a mystery. Thompson and her neighbors have taken matters into their own hands, filing report after report and making phone call after phone call to local, state and federal agencies. When Thompson discusses the actions taken by the people of Joliet, she underscores the fact that this is a human issue: “I’m not an environmentalist, I’m a mom. I’m not an activist, I’m an American,” she said.Unfortunately, Joliet residents say their concerns have consistently been ignored by every public agency and department that, in theory, is supposed to help them. The IEPA and local officials play a game of ping pong with their cries for help, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims not to have jurisdiction over the area. The IEPA likes to claim that these diseases occur naturally, but there is nothing natural about the levels at which they occur in Joliet.On the rare occasions when the IEPA has returned a few a call, agency officials have tried to justify the horrendous living conditions by saying the jobs at the coal plant and its coal ash disposal site are needed. Thompson says that supposed “gain” certainly pales in comparison to watching her family and friends suffer the health effects. “‘Get use to it and get over it’ is what they try to tell us,” Thompson said.Not surprisingly, when the Environmental Integrity Project and Sierra Club’s recently released coal ash report, “In Harm’s Way,” Joliet was listed as one of the most contaminated sites in the country. The town of Joliet has received national attention from such figures as Erin Brockovich and, at the time, Senator Obama. Thompson and her community continue to ask why they aren’t receiving any help. “Why doesn’t the EPA prove something is safe? Why must we wait for a body count to show it’s not?” asked Thompson.”It’s not an environmental issue; it’s an ethical, social and civil rights issue.”Tell EPA we need strong federal safeguards for toxic coal ash.
This post is the latest in our series of community coal ash profiles. It was written by Sierra Club Apprentice Flavia de la Fuente. When a company named Making Money, Having Fun LLC (how’s that for Orwellian?) applied for a permit for a commercial disposal facility to dump coal ash (along with waste oil and gas water) in eastern Oklahoma, they provided geographical maps and documents indicating that, pursuant to the Corporation Commission rules, there was no town of a population below 20,000 within three miles.Except that’s not true.The town of Bokoshe (450 people) has been there since the 1800s. You can drive through it, you can stop at the post office, and you can graduate from the high school. But for Making Money, Having Fun, there is no town and there are no rules. For eight years, they have been dumping waste oil and gas water and driving trucks of toxic coal fly ash (as many as 80 trucks in a single day), the product of a nearby coal-fired power plant run by AES, through the main street in town and dumping it in a pit a mere mile and a half from Bokoshe. Dozens of people in Bokoshe have died of cancer or are battling it right now, and children with asthma wake up in the middle of the night, struggling to breathe, afraid that they’re going to die.Diane Reece, an elementary school teacher in Bokoshe, protested the fly ash pit from the beginning. “We didn’t know anything about fly ash at the time,” she said. “When they granted us a meeting downtown, it was a courtesy, because they were going to do it anyways. They haven’t honored any of the promises they made, and they said it was harmless. And we believed them.”Tim Tanksley, another local Bokoshe resident, also recalls being told not to worry: “They just told everybody it was dirt, that you could put it on your peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” Choosing a site near Bokoshe was nothing if not predatory. Reece stated, “In small towns you have people who help each other. It’s a beautiful place to live. It’s a wonderful thing to live in a community to help each other. And I feel that they have chosen small towns because we are so trusting. We trusted that they wouldn’t be dumping anything to harm us.”"They” is a broad term for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (lead state agency in charge of oil and gas water that issued the original permit), and the Department of Mines (lead agency in charge of reclamation).To Reece and other Bokoshe residents, also complicit is Oklahoma’s political leadership: the governor who appoints people to these various commissions, the local congressional representative, and the senators from Oklahoma, who in theory are charged with representing the interests of their constituents. The ODEQ refuses to acknowledge that fugitive coal fly ash is impacting people and property outside the fence line. The Department of Mines refuses to acknowledge that the pit is leaking contaminated wastewater. And Oklahoma’s political leadership refuses to acknowledge basic, incontrovertible science. Tim Tanksley appealed directly to Senator James Inhofe and Representative Dan Boren to help, who in turn replied, “The fly ash is temporarily mounded while it is mixed with water to form slurry. Ultimately, the mine will be transformed into a pasture. Therefore, the fly ash mound is temporary and will disappear once the reclamation is complete.”Meanwhile, Senator Inhofe and Representative Boren are both helping the pit stay open. According to Harlan Hentges, Oklahoman and attorney for Bokoshe residents, “Senator Inhofe is all over this thing. EPA stopped (the company) from dumping out there. After that happened, the Senator called EPA to find out when they could resume dumping in the pit. Representative Dan Boren did the same thing.”Hentges has learned to follow the money. “Those businesses pay a whole lot of money to do whatever the hell they want to do. They pay people to exploit the power that they have on their behalf. And you come up with all kinds of interesting ways to justify it. It’s becoming really, really hard to justify in Bokoshe. What is wrong with this? What is so twisted here? Why is it so bad that we don’t think you should dump fly ash into a pit?”Bokoshe residents are fighting back, and founded B.E. Cause to protect their town, their health, and the future of their children. They’ve tussled with state agencies, with their elected officials, and even with other people in Bokoshe.There’s a younger generation that is fighting back as well: Diane Reece’s class of sixth graders has taken the kind of initiative that reassures us that small towns are still America’s moral compass. Thanks to a federal grant program called “Learn and Serve America” there is structured time set aside for Reece’s class (pictured below) to serve their community. Proposals for this year’s program included a “Welcome to Bokoshe” sign and a bench downtown for the gossip group (it’s a small town, after all). But then three girls raised their hands and said, “We need to stop the fly ash.” Reece asked the class how many people had asthma, and of the 17 students, 9 raised their hands. Reece recalled, “That was my answer. They started telling me about what it’s like to have asthma. I was listening to them tell me how their attacks made them feel like they were going to die.”
“We’re just getting started,” said Reece, “my sixth graders are leading the cause. The other night at our parent-teacher conference, they got 25 signatures in an hours’ time. And this type of stuff is important, because out here, not everybody has access to computers and the internet. Tonight at the football game, we’re going to pass out flyers about fly ash.”Bokoshe may be a small town, but the residents have big hearts.
As Big coal corporate and government leaders from around the world converge in St. Louis this weekend for the Global Energy Future Forum, mysterious black crosses appeared before the headquarter offices of Peabody Energy and Ameren UE, as well as a PNC Bank, calling out the growing deathtoll related to coal mining and coal burning policies.
As part of the “Black Cross Alliance,” the black crosses follow similar incidents of spontaneous cross construction throughout Illinois last week.
In fact, Peabody Energy was hit this week with an imminent danger order from the Mine Safety and Health Administration for one of its strip mines in Wyoming. And Missouri citizens continue to protest Ameren’s plans to build the massive Labadie toxic coal ash dump near the Missouri River– the source of drinking water for part of the state.
According to the press release in St. Louis:
You shall not press upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns.
You shall not crucify us any longer upon a cross of coal.
In response to the Big Coal energy future conference at Washington University, clean energy proponents are sponsoring a Climate Solutions Forum.
The activists in St. Louis posted these facts:
This post is the latest in our series of coal ash community profiles. Our work on coal ash unfortunately becomes timely yet again, as news came out this week of a breach at a coal ash impoundment in North Carolina. This week’s profile was written by Sierra Club Apprentice Andrea Sanchez.There is nothing little about Little Blue Run Dam, the coal fly ash impoundment that reaches into both Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Coal ash is the toxic by-product of burning coal for electricity – the Little Blue Run ash impoundment belongs to the Bruce Mansfield Plant. This plant is FirstEnergy’s largest coal-fired power plant, burning around seven million tons of coal annually. At full capacity, the three plants that make up Bruce Mansfield complex produce four million gallons of coal slurry daily. This is where Little Blue comes in. Seven miles of pipeline will bring you to a 1,694 acre disposal site known as Little Blue (see its eerie blue color in the above Google Maps satellite image). By the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own admission, Little Blue is one of 49 sites around the country whose dam currently has a High Hazard Potential rating. This rating means that if the dam holding back Little Blue’s toxic slurry – the largest earthen dam in the country – were to breach, it would result in probable loss of life, largely to communities across the river in Ohio. In addition to the structural hazard, coal ash also contains toxic metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, and selenium, to name a few, and so far EPA has not required special liners to ensure that coal ash does not contaminate nearby waterways. Debbie Havens, of the West Virginia side of the impoundment, remembers the first time the energy company spoke to her about the expansion of the impoundment years ago. A man came to her home armed with a colorful brochure and said, “There will be swimming, boating, walking and bike trails, a place a family could spend time together.”She told him, “I’m sorry sir, but I have a hard time believing that.” That was the first and only time that anyone came to her door. Now large properties are being bought off left and right to make room for more coal ash waste at Little Blue. For those living near unlined coal ash impoundments the risk of cancer can be as high as 1 in 50, which is 2,000 times higher than EPA’s “acceptable cancer risk of 1 in 100,000.” This statistic only takes into account the risk of cancer from arsenic exposure in drinking water. When looking at the entire list of toxins contained in coal ash, the health risks are even worse. Havens’ husband had his thyroid removed several years ago after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer and now Havens herself has a thyroid nodule which doctors are watching. Doctors also found three benign tumors doctors in her breast. With no family history of thyroid problems, her endocrinologist has assessed that environmental exposure as the cause and told her, “You need to move or you will never survive this stuff.”In her community three men have already died from cancer this year. One thing is sure, she said, “Life is a lot different than that pretty brochure 36 years ago.”On the other side of the impoundment in Pennsylvania, Barb Reed and her son are living about a mile away from the site in Georgetown. Reed has lived in the area since 1978; her son is now living with her because he can no longer use his own water. His home is closer to the impoundment and after both FirstEnergy and the state Department of Environmental Protection found that the levels of arsenic in his water were exceeding the maximum EPA levels, he decided he had to leave his home. “It’s terribly upsetting because he can’t even take showers or wash dishes, he’s had to leave his home, and he’s still paying a mortgage on it,” said Reed. “They haven’t even offered him a viable water supply because they claim it is not their fault.”If the risk of cancer, the potential for contaminated water, and the destroyed landscape isn’t enough – there is also the smell of rotten eggs. “You can’t breathe because of the smell. Your throat burns, your eyes burns, everyday we’re surrounded by fly ash,” said Havens.Even from a mile away Reed is reluctant to use her water because of the smell of rotten eggs coming from the tap. While she used to garden in her own backyard, she now grows vegetables out of buckets with store-bought soil to avoid eating contaminated produce. It is time for EPA and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to treat coal ash as the toxic waste that it is. Both of Reed and Havens have attended the EPA coal ash public hearings in their areas hoping to get the agency to enact federally enforceable standards that will treat coal not like household garbage – but as toxic waste. “A banana peel is household waste, not fly ash,” said Havens.
Party down, Big Coal lobbyists! Give those Ameren utility dudes a raise.
After investing nearly $800,000 in political contributions, Big Coal utility giant Ameren just got confirmation that a pay off check for nearly $1 billion is in the mail, courtesy of US taxpayers.
Rock on, Energy Secretary Steven Chu!
All Ameren has to do is kinda sorta maybe refashion one of its coal-ash spewing World War II-era coal-fired and oil-burning plants into FutureGen 2.0–an infeasible, prohibitively expensive, accident and leak-prone, and chimerical scheme of oxy-combustion technology that will sorta kinda maybe capture, compress, pump and dump CO2 into Illinois’ aquifers and porous caverns.
Don’t worry: The company helping Ameren built the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, so they’re good to go.
And get this: Ameren is already sending its boys over to Illinois to soak the state’s taxpayers for a probable hike in utility rakes to cover any costs not bankrolled by the federal “clean coal” welfare program.
As business leaders in Mattoon, Illinois noted recently, after their town got shafted on the FUTUREGEN rollercoaster, they even question why anyone wants to “become the ‘dumping’ ground for other people’s waste.”
Good question. The answer, according to US Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) is a handful of jobs. After receiving over $135,000 in political contributions from Ameren and other Big Coal lobbyists, Durbin can now crow that he pulled in $1 billion in US taxpayer funds from the federal stimulus to create approximately “500 jobs, pipeline construction would add another 275, and there would be 75 new permanent jobs.”
Do the math: Those are some expensive government-funded and subsidized jobs.
According to energy analyst Rory McIlmoil at Downstream Stragegies, spending that billion dollars on clean energy projects would be a vastly better investment all around:
Too bad the cancer-plagued farmers contaminated by coal slurry in nearby Illinois communities never received such compensation.
Too bad nearby farmers are now losing their ancestral farm houses and fertile rows of corn to longwall mining and more coal slurry is slated for their aquifers.
Too bad Illinois coal miners who are dying daily from black lung disease can’t get a little more of this pork.
FutureGen 2.0 is not even scheduled to sorta kinda operate on a commercial scale for a decade, so we don’t even need to note the issue of peak coal and FutureGen’s increased coal production needs.
No, today is party day for Big Coal and its utility partners, and Big Coal-bankrolled politicians like US. Sen. Dick Durbin.
This week’s Bruce Nilles column is another guest one. This week’s coal ash community profile was written by Elizabeth Irvin, a Sierra Club Apprentice. For one weekend each year in early May, Louisville, Kentucky, boasts an abnormally high concentration of horses, jockeys, mint juleps, and elaborate hats. Less than ten miles from Churchill Downs, the neighborhood of Riverside Gardens has been dealing with an abnormal and deadly concentration of toxic chemicals every day for more than 40 years. A low income neighborhood in an area of Louisville known for its concentration of chemical plants, landfills, and power plants, Riverside Gardens may soon be forced to deal with yet another threat: a second coal ash dump in their community. Monica Burkhead thought she was living the American dream when she bought a house in Riverside Gardens at the age of 17. She was assured that the neighborhood was safe, but has since learned that she is surrounded by growing quantities of all forms of toxic waste. The sources of these toxins include 11 chemical plants, a 2.4 million cubic yard unlined chemical landfill that is one of the state’s oldest superfund sites, and multiple unlined coal ash waste ponds at the Cane Run coal plant owned by Louisville Gas and Electric.The oldest of these coal ash ponds was built in the 1970s, but there are no records of any monitoring of any pond until 2005. The largest of these ponds is one of 49 nationwide that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated as “high hazard” – meaning that a dam failure like the 2008 disaster in Tennessee would probably result in loss of life. Ash in this pond looms 20 feet over the containment berm, 50 yards from homes and within 350 yards of the Ohio River. Louisville Gas and Electric is currently seeking permits to “expand” the pond at the Cane Run coal plant by constructing a new 5.7 million cubic yard, 14-story-tall pond some 1,500 feet from the existing one. What little data can be obtained about the existing ponds shows that they have been leaking sulfates into local groundwater. Neither the coal plant nor the state government has made public any tests of the toxic heavy metals found in coal ash, including arsenic, selenium, and mercury.Monica and her neighbors live in a community ravaged by cancer. EPA has found that people living near coal ash ponds have a risk of cancer greater than that of smoking a pack of cigarettes every day. Community organizers say that behind every door they knock on is someone with either cancer or kidney failure. When Monica took the community’s concerns to the chemical and coal companies, they told her that it was their lifestyles, and not the toxic contamination, that was making them sick. Monica doesn’t smoke or drink, eats healthily, and gets regular exercise. All of her family members except her husband have battled cancer. The industries evidently consider living in Riverside Gardens a lifestyle choice, even though the neighborhood existed long before plants that are now polluting it. Resident Terri Humphrey expressed a common sentiment when she told a community meeting, “I believe the companies think that it’s already so bad down there that it doesn’t matter if they dump something else on us.”Monica, Terri, and other Riverside Gardens residents will testify at the upcoming EPA coal ash hearing in Louisville on September 28th. Monica says that EPA can begin to repair her trust in government’s ability to protect communities by enacting a strong, federally enforceable rule that ends dangerous practices like the ones employed at the Cane Run plant.Last spring, a group of children at nearby Farnsley Middle School were top 10 finalists in a competition to be “America’s Greenest School.” In the video they produced, students talk about their plans to manage the school’s waste more responsibly. Strong leadership from EPA and Administrator Lisa Jackson can make coal companies live up to the example set by the students in their own community.See www.sierraclub.org/coalash to learn more and take action on toxic coal ash.
This week’s coal ash community profile post was written by Gabriel DeRita, a Sierra Club Communications Apprentice. Also, follow today’s EPA coal ash public hearing in Chicago via our @SierraClubLive and @SierraClubIL Twitter accounts. The area around Surry County, Virginia, is already home to some sinister projects, including several major coal ash disposal sites and Michael Vick’s infamous dog fighting operation. One of the disposal sites is the local golf course, the Battlefield Golf Club. The green is sculpted with 1.5 million tons of coal fly-ash. Now a major Virginia power provider, the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC), wants to site a 1500 mega watt coal plant, accompanied by several hundred acres of ash disposal sites, along the Blackwater River in Surry. This project, if completed, will be the largest coal-fired power plant in Virginia. Its coal ash will be stored in several landfill areas around the plant. If the power plant itself falls through, ODEC representatives have indicated an option of developing the site as an exclusive coal ash landfill. Executives announced on Wednesday, September 8, that the project deadline is being pushed back from 2016 to 2020, citing concerns over pending federal regulations and lagging electricity demand. Though ODEC remains committed to pursuing the project, the delay comes as a welcome relief to local residents, and backs up arguments made by environmental and community groups that there is no pressing need for coal-fired power from such a massive plant. Local residents like Betsy Shepard, mother of two, have been fighting ODEC tooth and nail since 2008, and the announcement comes as a major vindication of their efforts. Shepard is a busy full-time mom, but found the time to take a leading role in her community’s fight to curb the march of coal ash contamination.”I had no intentions of taking such an active role in the fight, but as is often the case in small communities, one has to step up and lend a hand when there is a need,” said Shepard.In meetings with ODEC officials, Shepard and her fellow community organizers have met with flippant and dismissive comments.In one instance, company officials told Shepard’s husband they will plant trees to block his view of the 650 foot smoke stacks that will accompany the plant. When he pointed out there are few trees in Virginia taller than 100 feet, the official replied, “Well, you won’t be able to see the smokestacks if you’re right up on [the trees].” Unfortunately for the residents of Surry, none of them live in trees. When asked if they will provide a lifetime guarantee on the disposal site’s protective liners, the ODEC representative laughed and said, “Nothing lasts forever.” Shepard replied, “Yes. That’s our fear.”The new plant is of particular concern not only because of its size, but its location adjacent to the Blackwater River and its large area of surrounding wetlands, which feeds into the shallow aquifers that all 7,000 residents of Surry County rely on for fresh water. Residents of the county use private wells, and the three incorporated towns have their own municipal water systems, all drawn from aquifers. There is no water treatment or reservoir in Surry County. Because the Dendron aquifer is unconfined and receives water directly from the surface, it is very susceptible to contamination. Anything that flows through the ground surface can quickly reach the water table. According to Shepard’s calculations, the coal ash sites will sit approximately 1,500 feet from Dendron’s main water source. The proposed site is also within three miles of county schools, wedged between wetlands along the Blackwater River and a row of homes on main street Dendron, a small town within Surry. Shepard is fearful of the changes this will bring to the quaint, small-town Virginia landscape. “The plant and ash piles would be, literally, in people’s backyards…picture Leave It to Beaver’s house with a massive industrial complex, 650-foot smokestacks, and 7-story tall ash piles directly behind it.”The proximity to homes also creates air quality concerns. Surry County has the third highest asthma rates in the State of Virginia. In ODEC’s permit application to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, they describe the possibility of “fugitive emissions” and “wind erosion” from the vast ash stacks. Company officials sang a different tune at community meetings, saying the ash was secure and would only blow in a 100-year storm, claiming “zero [airborne] emissions.” This clear disconnect between fact and rhetoric is especially frustrating to Shepard, who spent dozens of hours educating herself and her neighbors on the threats they will face, only to have industry officials call public meetings and spread misinformation to her community. Most people in her town had no idea a massive coal plant is being proposed, let alone any stance on the issue. Shepard and her friends joke that “we know more about coal than we ever wanted to,” but their diligent fact-checking and research has helped inform her community about the risks of the proposed plant, and opposition is growing. After word got out about the plant proposal, the town council meeting was “packed like sardines,” with people lined up out the door to comment. “Word spreads fast in a small town,” Shepard jokes. But thanks to her efforts to inform her neighbors and their effective organizing, every comment submitted was against the plant. The recent announcement of a two-year delay in the project by ODEC comes as a major relief to community residents, but Shepard and others acknowledge the fight is far from over. On the heels of this delay, it is important the pressure against this project remains strong. Sign the petition against the Surry project.As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducts an ongoing series of nationwide hearings on re-classifying coal ash as the toxic waste it is, the voices of community leaders like Betsy Shepard will continue to be instrumental in providing real stories to back up the hard data on the dangers of coal ash. Click here to find out more about a hearing near you, and how you can add your voice to the growing call to protect American communities from the dangers of coal ash. EPA needs to set federal standards for coal ash disposal to protect communities like Surry from increased and continued exposure to known toxins. As more communities speak out on this issue, the harder it will be for federal officials to ignore their calls for clean air, clean water, and an end to coal’s toxic legacy in America.
Reversing its embarrassing oversight, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has added one final public hearing on coal ash regulatory proposals, to be held fittingly in Tennessee, the state that suffered the worst coal ash disaster in U.S. history in December 2008.
An EPA spokesperson confirmed that the final public hearing will take place the week of October 25th in Knoxville, Tennessee, although the exact date and location have yet to be announced.
So far, the public hearings on proposed coal ash regulations have been well-attended. ENS reported that the Dallas hearing last Wednesday was “packed” with “hundreds of residents from four states… urging the agency to adopt the stronger of two plans to regulate the waste from coal-fired power plants.”
But the intensity of the hearings picked up significantly today in Charlotte, NC, where the comments kicked off with a standing-room-only crowd ready for a marathon 13-plus hour hearing that could possibly stretch until midnight as hundreds of concerned residents, and a handful of coal industry lobbyists, voice their opinions.
As of 5pm EST, only 120 of the 453 people signed up to comment had been heard from, ensuring a late night ahead. According to hearing attendees I spoke to earlier, the EPA has been very accommodating of walk-ins who did not pre-register to comment, and appears to be making every effort to hear from anyone who shows up.
I have heard several examples of some of the powerful testimony offered by coal ash victims so far today, including a Pennsylvania woman who presented homemade jam and garden vegetables that were grown with water from her coal-ash-contaminated well, asking the EPA officials whether they would eat the products knowing about the contamination.
And of course, Duke Energy, headquartered in Charlotte, has been a hot subject among commenters. Most of the 13 coal ash ponds in North Carolina belong to Duke Energy, and Duke has two coal ash ponds near Mountain Island Lake, the main source of Charlotte’s drinking water.
Sierra Club member Bill Gupton testified today that, “These aging coal ash ponds – one built in 1957 – are both still unlined, both are still leaching hazardous substances into the ground and contaminating our ground water – a fact documented by Duke Energy’s own data.”
Upper Watauga Riverkeeper Donna Lisenby told me that comments so far have leaned roughly 60-40 in favor of Option C, which would label coal ash as “hazardous waste” and require more federal oversight of coal ash operations. But Lisenby expects that proponents of the industry-friendly Option D will become sparser as the coal lobbyists punch their timecards and head home.
Lisenby reported excellent representation from minority communities in South Carolina who are living with the effects of coal ash every day, and a strong showing of youth traveling from local universities to take part in the hearing. The faith community is also present, including a minister who blessed some people on the forehead with coal ash, Lisenby says.
Appalachian Voices released a statement this afternoon noting that one of the victims of the 2008 TVA coal ash spill – Steve Scarborough, who owns a house that was damaged in the massive Tennessee coal ash disaster – traveled to Charlotte to testify.
The EPA will hear from a lot more Tennessee victims of the TVA spill, thanks to the belated but wise decision to host the final coal ash hearing in Knoxville, just over an hour’s drive from the site of the spill.
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has applauded EPA’s last-minute change of heart.
“The EPA made exactly the right decision. Having hearings on coal ash without asking Tennesseans what they think would be like having hearings on Katrina without asking people in New Orleans what they think, or on the oil spill without asking people who live on the Gulf what they think,” Alexander said in a statement.
The Knoxville hearing is sure to have an emotionally-charged atmosphere, since it is closest to the site of the TVA disaster. It is still a 350-mile, six-hour drive away for Uniontown, Alabama residents who live near the landfill that is receiving the coal ash from the TVA spill, but perhaps some will make the journey to comment in front of EPA representatives.
The public comment period closes November 19th, so anyone is welcome to tell EPA what you think about the proposed coal ash regulations.
In the meantime, follow the action in Charlotte by checking out Charlotte Business Journal’s live blogging, and follow the action on Twitter via the hashtag #coalash.
Follow Brendan DeMelle on Twitter:
You’ve seen our push against toxic coal ash continue over the past few months as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeks public comment on how to regulate coal ash. Our push continues this week with the unveiling of a new coal ash video we produced and a Facebook application. Take a look at the video first:Left over after coal is burned, coal ash contains a dangerous mix of arsenic, mercury, lead and other pollution, pollution known to cause cancer and other serious illnesses. As was noted in the video, living near some coal ash sites can be more dangerous than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.To keep the pressure on EPA to regulate coal ash based on how toxic it is, we are launching new efforts to educate and engage citizens, many of whom are unaware that they may live near a toxic coal ash site. This week we launched a new Facebook application, the Toxic Coal Ash Site Locator, which allows you to find out how close you, your friends and family live to these toxic dumps.Try it now, and then take action. There are still EPA coal ash public hearings left across the U.S. – attend one to voice your concern, or submit your comments via email right now.