NYT: The myth of Clean Coal is Dead!

The New York Times just editorialized that the myth of clean coal is dead. TVA killed it, after years of environmental justice activists battling the goliath with slingshots from the grass roots. We still gotta nail up the coffin though, and part of that is gonna be fighting the 2.5 billion Obama wants to give to coal research. Leave it in the Hole!

Collapse of the Clean Coal Myth

Published: January 22, 2009

A month of negative news for the Tennessee Valley Authority could lead to positive changes in national policy, including federal regulation of toxic coal wastes and new legal constraints on coal-fired power plants. More broadly, the authority’s recent travails may help persuade the public that coal is nowhere near as “clean” as a high-priced industry advertising campaign makes it out to be.
In December, hundreds of acres of Roane County in eastern Tennessee were buried under a billion gallons of toxic coal sludge after the collapse of one of the T.V.A.’s containment ponds. It was an accident waiting to happen and an alarm bell for Congress and federal regulators.
Senator Barbara Boxer of California noted that coal combustion in this country produces 130 million tons of coal ash every year — enough to fill a train of boxcars stretching from Washington, D.C., to Australia. Amazingly, the task of regulating the more than 600 landfills and impoundments holding this ash is left to the states, which are more often lax than not. Ms. Boxer will press the Obama administration to devise rules for the disposal of coal ash as well as design and construction standards for the impoundments.
Just as the T.V.A. was dealing with this mess, Lacy Thornburg, a federal district judge in North Carolina, ordered the giant utility to reduce emissions from four coal-fired power plants that had been sending pollution into North Carolina.
The ruling validated an unusual legal strategy adopted by North Carolina’s attorney general, Roy Cooper, who sued the T.V.A. in 2006 on grounds that pollution from its power plants in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky constituted a “public nuisance” to the citizens of his state. Mr. Cooper chose this route because the Bush administration had systematically weakened regulations that had been used in the past to force power companies to clean up their emissions.
Taken together, the coal ash disaster and Judge Thornburg’s ruling did much to undercut the coal industry’s cheery “clean coal” campaign, whose ads would have us believe that low-polluting coal is here or just around the corner.
It is neither. Coal is certainly an important fuel, providing just over half of the nation’s electricity. And progress has been made: new coal-fired plants are cleaner than old ones, and older plants that have been required under the Clean Air Act to install pollution controls are cleaner than the many plants that have managed to escape the law’s reach.
But coal remains an inherently dirty fuel, and a huge contributor to not only ground-level pollution — including acid rain and smog — but also global warming. The sooner the country understands that, the closer it will be to mitigating the damage.
A version of this article appeared in print on January 23, 2009, on page A22 of the New York edition.

Of Strip Mines and Windmills

UMD volunteers flying with South Wings over Southern Appalachia. The first video is of the future, rising out of the obscurity and haze of today into the possibilities of tomorrow. The second is of today’s tragedy, today’s misery, of the pillage of our future. We get to choose which one we live.

Obama administration gets going on the right foot

I’m sure there are going to be many hopeful press releases like this one coming out in the next few weeks, but this is good news considering the spills over the last couple of weeks.  Check out some of the recent protests in response to TVA’s sub par response to clean up and health management in Harriman, Tn and Alabama from our friends at United Mountain Defense.

Obama pick for EPA chief to assess coal ash disposal sites

January 15, 2009

WASHINGTON President-elect Barack Obama’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency vowed yesterday to immediately assess hundreds of coal ash disposal sites at power plants across the country in the wake of two spills in Alabama and Tennessee.

Testifying at her Senate confirmation hearing, Lisa Jackson said the agency also will reconsider ways to regulate the ash and how it is stored, something the EPA recommended in 2000 but did not act upon.

Coal ash ponds storing waste created by burning coal are not subject to federal regulations. Oversight of the ponds and landfills varies by state.

Jackson said the agency’s decisions will be based on science and the law and not politics. Her statement was the clearest signal yet that the Obama administration plans to take the EPA in a different direction.

“Science must be the backbone of what EPA does,” said Jackson. “EPA’s addressing of scientific decisions should reflect the expert judgment of the agency’s career scientists and independent advisers.”

Fake Grassroots = TurfRoots (About as fake as C!#*n Coal)

This just came across the Mountain Justice listserv. The clean coal lobbyists, masters of fiction in the political arena, faked the appearance of a grassroots movement with lots of money at every political rally possible during the run up to the elections this year, and in so doing almost turned clean coal technology, in true political fashion, into a real thing, almost. Say it enough and it becomes true, right?

This is shameful propaganda and manipulation, and in the face of three TVA disasters, each the real dirty side of “clean coal”, it is an insult to all the people that deal with the violent end of the coal industry. No New Coal!

Contact: Sam Salyer, 301-887-1060, x112 sam@kelleycampaigns.com

Coal lobby PR firm’s memo brags about manipulating Democrats, Republicans and media stars on the campaign trail

Spin doctors reveal how they injected discredited idea of “clean coal” into presidential campaign…and air and water

Washington D.C., Jan. 14, 2009—Experts on the human and environmental impact of coal expressed outrage today at a newly posted memo from a D.C.-area public relations firm. In the unseemly memo, the Hawthorn Group extolled their PR campaign on behalf of the coal industry as historic, although “clean coal” does not actually exist.

“The industry’s indiscriminate attempts to market “clean coal” are starting to look like the tobacco industry’s efforts to sell “safe cigarettes,” said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project and a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official. “No public relations strategy can hide the dozens of plants the industry is still trying to build, using old technologies that would add more than 150 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere—the amount of global warming pollution created by more than 20 million Hummers. And it certainly can’t hide the back-to-back spills of toxic coal ash at TVA’s plants only weeks after the election.”

The memo is signed by Suzanne Hammelman, executive vice president of the Hawthorn Group and wife of coal industry lobbyist Paul Bailey, both major donors to top Democrats.

It details a highly organized strategy to simulate grassroots support and convince the candidates that Americans support the coal industry, in coordination with a national advertising campaign that reportedly took the total expense to $55 million.

Their tactics targeted prominent political figures including both major parties’ candidates for president and vice president, all of whom took positions in favor of clean coal during the campaign debates. Their memo shows a picture of Joe the Plumber wearing a “Clean Coal” hat. Other pictures show John McCain addressing a crowd of people, several of whom are wearing the hats, and Vice President-elect Joe Biden and CNN commentator Chris Matthews posing with people wearing hats and other “clean coal” clothing.

“We nearly turned candidate events into clean coal rallies,” the memo says.

“We did this by sending ‘clean coal’ branded teams to hundreds of presidential candidate events, carrying a positive message (we can be part of the solution to climate change) which was reinforced by giving away free t-shirts and hats emblazoned with our branding: Clean Coal.”

The PR team then used Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube to distribute the pictures and video. Their memo continues, “The pictures of our supporters were caught and broadcast by local and national media, including USA Today and Fox News. Soon our message was repeated back to us from the podium by the candidates themselves.”

President-elect Obama himself is quoted in the memo, telling a newspaper in Scranton, Pa., “I saw somebody with a clean coal technology hat. We have abundant coal.”

The memo’s release comes on the heels of the largest coal ash spill and one of the worst environmental disasters in American history. The spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tenn. dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash on the surrounding community.

“Anyone talking about ‘clean coal’ needs to come down here and see what we’re dealing with,” said Chris Irwin, staff attorney for United Mountain Defense, a Tennessee group working with residents impacted by the disaster. “All the hats and t-shirts in the world won’t make coal any less filthy.”

The memo was sent out to “family and friends” as an email newsletter at the end of December, and was posted on Monday on the Hawthorn Group website at: http://www.hawthorngroup.com/newsletter/index.BAK.html.

It starts out, “We thought the most fixated of the political and communications ‘junkies’ might find interesting some highlights of a recent grassroots campaign Hawthorn created and managed for the American Coalition of Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE).”

“Even in a communication-saturated environment we achieved, even exceeded, our wildest expectations (and we believe those of our client!)…The presidential campaign concluded with both candidates, their running mates and surrogates talking about and supporting clean coal technology. The issue was mentioned in all four general election debates. This was a 180-degree turn from earlier in the campaign when none of the candidates were focused on this issue.”

For interviews with Eric Schaeffer, Chris Irwin, or families impacted by the Tennessee coal ash disaster, or an electronic or hard copy of the memo that was posted at the above web link, please contact Patricia Charles or Sam Salyer at 301-887-1060, patricia@kelleycampaigns.com or sam@kelleycampaigns.com.

Second TVA Dam Ruptures in Alabama

Cross posted from The Tennessean. TVA strikes again, and again a blow for clean coal. Stay Tuned Here for more info about this and the earlier spill in Tennessee.

STEVENSON, AL–TVA has estimated the spill of gypsum slurry at 10,000 gallons, said Scott Hughes, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

“We’ve got somebody on site who’s monitoring water quality to make sure there’s not any impact to aquatic organisms,” he said. Utilities that draw drinking water supplies from the Tennessee River downstream are not expected to be impacted, he said.

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TVA has put out booms on Widows Creek to try to hold the slurry and the first water intake is downriver on the other side of Jackson County from the TVA plant, he said.

The liquid, coming off a pond where gypsum slurry is poured, escaped an upper pond, flowing downhill into a second containment pond.

“Since it was one slug of material – one big volume of water – the second pond could not contain it all, so some of it went over the spillway into Widows Creek,” Hughes said.

TVA official Gil Francis said today’s leak at its Widows Creek coal-burning power plant in northeastern Alabama, was caused by a break in a pipe that removes water from the 147-acre gypsum pond.

The water leaked into a settling pond, where water then escaped into Widows Creek.

Witnesses saw hay bales, which are often used to stop erosion or to help contain a spill, being driven onto site at the plant today.

The leak, discovered before 6 a.m. has been stopped, according to John Moulton, with the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“Some materials flowed into Widows Creek, although most of the leakage remained in the settling pond,” he said.

Gypsum is a byproduct of coal-burning power plants when “scrubbers” are added that use limestone spray to clean air emissions. This pulls sulfur dioxide from the emissions.

Tighter air emissions controls result in additional waste byproducts. Gypsum can be used in building materials.

Local resident contradicts TVA

A Scottsboro, Alabama man said TVA isn’t being honest about what’s happened and provided photos he said were taken today 12 miles downstream of Widows Creek, on the Tennessee River.

A silvery sludge coated the shore in the photos he said were at Bellefonte Landing, near a site for which TVA is seeking a permit to build a nuclear power plant.

“This is the same stuff on the shoreline up there at Kingston,” said Garry Morgan, who said he believed it was coming from Widows Creek.

“It’s very obvious what’s happening. All the rains we’ve had, these retention ponds haven’t been inspected and are rupturing.

Morgan is a member of the Bellefonte Efficiency Sustainability Team, which opposes a new nuclear plant, and also the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

TVA spokesman John Moulton said last night that whatever might be in the photos are not related to either TVA’s Kingston plant or its Widow Creek plant.

“To our knowledge, that … is not ash and is not gypsum either,” said TVA spokesman John Moulton.

The ash from Kingston has not moved that far downstream, so far as TVA is aware, he said.

“Most of what was released into Widows Creek was water,” he said.
“We’re using a topography sensing system to estimate the actual amount of gypsum material released into the creek.”

The results will be provided when available, the said.

Early Tennessean staff reports of the Alabama spill

Alabama environmental officials were on their way as of 10:15 a.m. Central Time to an spill at TVA’s Widows Creek coal-fired power plant in Stevenson, Ala., which is located about 110 miles southeast of Nashville.

Scott Hughes, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management said, “The only thing we’ve got right now is that there was a release from a gypsum treatment operation.”

“We do understand that some of the material has reached Widows Creek.”
The creek from which TVA’s coal burning plant gets its name, crosses the plant property. Gypsum can be sold for use in wallboard, but markets have been slow and it like more standard ash can build up in waste ponds.

“We’re in the process of gathering more info and getting a full report.”

Kingston is the scene of a TVA ash pond that ruptured: Early on the morning of Dec. 22, more than a billion gallons of sludge flowed out of the pond, damaging a dozen homes and creating environmental havoc along the Emory River.

The Widows Creek Fossil Plant is located on Guntersville Reservoir on the Tennessee River. It has eight coal-fired units and was completed in 1965. The plant consumes about 10,000 tons of coal a day. The ash from that coal was in the pond that broke there.

Anne Paine is reporting from Nashville and Brad Schrade is reporting from Stevenson, Ala.