EPA Releases Locations of 44 “High Risk” Coal Ash Sites

Written by Peebles Squire, cross-posted from the CCAN blog.
EPA LogoYesterday, the EPA performed a turn-around on its protection of the locations of 44 “high risk” coal ash impoundment sites, signaling a desire to make the regulatory body more transparent. Formerly protected under the auspices of national security, the ash impoundments, located in Ohio, Arizona, and throughout the southeast, have been determined to be particularly vulnerable to failure. In a time where the future of American energy remains stuck between antiquated fossil fuels and cleaner, renewable technology, concerns over proper disposal of coal ash has risen to the top of the debate, particularly after last December’s TVA sludge disaster in Roane County, Tennessee.

The reason behind this concern is, of course, fairly easy to identify. Coal slurry ponds, which may hold several billion gallons of the toxic sludge, are typically held in place by earthen dams made of rock and other fill material. While typically sturdy, history has shown us that these dams are definitely prone to failure, especially when not regulated properly. In fact, the dangers surrounding slurry dams have been well known and well documented for decades. West Virginia’s Buffalo Creek Flood of 1972 destroyed over 500 homes with a 30-foot high, 132 million gallon wave of the toxic stuff. When blasting occurs near these ponds (as it does near Marsh Fork Elmentary in Sunrise, WV), the risk becomes intensified as nearby shockwaves may threaten the structural integrity of the dam.

Marsh Fork Elementary School and a neighboring sludge pond.

Fly ash, though dry and therefore less at risk to flooding, presents just as serious a hazard to the local ecosystem, including surrounding communities, wildlife, and groundwater reserves. Fly ash is stored in landfills, most of which are lined, but all of which are failure-prone. Particles in the air, blown from these ash impoundments, can cause serious health problems such as asthma and other respiratory diseases. Like wet slurry, fly ash contains a cocktail of harmful heavy metals and other contaminants that present a serious threat to the local and regional ecosystem… and to human health.

“CCRs [coal combustion residues] contain a broad range of metals, for example, arsenic, selenium, cadmium, lead, and mercury, but the concentrations of these are generally low. However, if not properly managed, (for example, in lined units), CCRs may cause a risk to human health and the environment and, in fact, EPA has documented cases of environmental damage“ (courtesy EPA.gov).

The collection and storage of coal ash is but one piece in a larger fossil fuel regime that thrives on the continued exploitation of the United States’ natural, non-renewable resources, known to cause significant air pollution and contribute to global climate change. The coal extraction, combustion, and disposal process is among the most destructive practices in human history, and with the continued popularity of mountaintop removal mining, the coal industry goes so far as to threaten the geography of Appalachia itself.

The EPA has made positive steps in naming these so-called high-risk sites, but seems to be avoiding tackling the bigger picture; coal is an unsustainable resource that is dirty, harmful, and dangerous. While 44 of these impoundment sites may be deemed more at-risk than others, the fact remains that anywhere coal is extracted, burned, or stored, safety is a non-issue, because coal is not, and never will be, “safe.”

President Obama, who has so far struggled with fulfilling his promise of increased transparency and accountability within government, has made significant forward progress by allowing the release of these 44 sites. However, the larger issue of formulating an American energy future – one without coal – rests untackled. As long as coal is allowed to thrive in Appalachia, the Midwest, and elsewhere, American citizens will remain at risk. The fossil fuel industry represents an old and outdated way of thinking: the idea that our actions now will bear no consequence on the future. We have now stepped healthily into the 21st century, largely thankful to the energy that fossil fuels of yore have given us, and as we continue to evolve as a species and a society, we are charged with abandoning a tradition that will serve no other end but to continue to harm Americans.

President Obama, Congress, and the EPA, if we are to bring the United States into a clean energy future, one that emphasizes the importance of renewable technologies, green jobs, and energy that is free of filthy, harmful substances, then we must see a real effort to focus on goals that do not give coal a future in the grid. The EPA seems to think that the term, “high risk,” should be reserved for a mere 44 out of the hundreds of slurry ponds and fly ash fills that sprinkle the American landscape. A more appropriate move would be to extend the “high risk” moniker to its proper breadth, across the entire industry.


Alabama coal mining company sued over slain Colombian unionists

Original article:

Alabama coal mining company sued over slain Colombian unionists

drummond_protest.jpgIn a case that gives a whole new meaning to the term “dirty coal,” a federal lawsuit filed last week against the Drummond Co. of Birmingham, Ala. alleges that the coal company paid millions of dollars to a Colombian paramilitary terrorist group responsible for the deaths of 67 people in an effort to disrupt union activities at its South American mine and railway operations.

This is the third lawsuit the privately held company has faced over charges of being involved in human rights abuses in civil war-torn Colombia. A similar suit filed in 2007 by a Colombian labor union and families of murdered miners ended with a verdict for Drummond. Earlier this year, the company was also sued by children of three slain Colombian miners.

Brought by the Conrad & Scherer firm of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the latest lawsuit accuses Drummond of paying the right-wing United Self Defense Forces of Colombia — known by its Spanish acronym AUC — to protect its business interests by terrorizing and killing union supporters. The suit offers details on a meeting between Drummond and AUC representatives during which the company allegedly ordered the execution of two union leaders.

“The 60-page complaint outlines allegation after allegation of brutality, describing how hundreds of men, women and children were terrorized in their homes, on their way to and from work, and often murdered by AUC paramilitaries acting on behalf of Drummond,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney Terry Collingsworth. “These are innocent people being killed in or near their homes or kidnapped to never to return home, their spouses and children being beaten and tied up, and people being pulled off buses and summarily executed on the spot.”

The civil action was filed on behalf of 252 plaintiffs who are relatives of the 67 victims; the plaintiffs’ names are being withheld to prevent reprisals against them. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama’s Western Division.

Continue reading

An analysis of the latest climate bill

Posted on the No New Coal Listserv. The Bill itself is here. This bill is lame, will not save the climate, and should be vetoed. It wont be, im afraid, because big coal and big oil is very happy with it. The movement for real, just and effective climate solutions will have to get bigger, braver, and more creative now that our long awaited “bold climate legislation” is here, was crafted by the coal barons in DC (Rick Boucher has got to go!), and generally sucks.

A Common Person’s Guide to the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009

By Ted Glick, Policy Director, Chesapeake Climate Action Network

On May 21st, following months of work, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACESA), a 932-page piece of climate legislation. There have been mixed reactions from environmental and climate groups, but most groups are in agreement that it needs to be strengthened going forward. For some groups the problems they see with the bill have led to their public withdrawal of support. These groups include Greenpeace USA, Public Citizen and Friends of the Earth. The Chesapeake Climate Action Network also does not support the bill in current form.

Below is a summary analysis of the main features of the bill.

Cap and Trade System: The bill would establish a “cap-and-trade” system which sets mandatory and declining limits on greenhouse gas emissions over the next 40 years. By 2050 it projects reductions of 83% from 2005 levels for the United States. It does this primarily through the establishment of 1) a “cap” on emissions and the annual issuance by the government of permits to emit greenhouse gases, both of which—the cap and the emissions permits–come down steadily year after year, and 2) a tradable market to buy and sell those permits to emit global warming pollution. That’s why it’s called a “cap-and-trade” system.

Wide-Open Buying and Selling: Significantly, this market is open to anyone, not just those entities which emit greenhouse gases. For example, Wall Street firms whose primary purpose is to make money for their investors can buy and sell pollution permits. Anyone, whether Goldman Sachs or John Q. Public, can get into this newly-created market. >From page 430 of the bill: “The privilege of purchasing, holding, selling, exchanging, transferring, and requesting retirement of emission allowances, compensatory allowances, or offset credits shall not be restricted to the owners and operators of covered entities, except as otherwise provided in this title.” Especially following the sub-prime mortgage/credit/banking crisis, there is concern among many people, including some on Capitol Hill, about the potential for this system to be abused by those out to make quick and big profits.

Goals and Targets: The document states that one of its prime objectives is to help the world “avoid atmosphere greenhouse gas concentrations above 450 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent; and global surface temperature 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above the pre-industrial average.” However, a growing number of scientists, journalists and climate activists believe that we need to reduce emissions more deeply if we are to have a good chance of avoiding climate catastrophe.

2020 Targets: It projects a 17% reduction in greenhouse gases (ghg) from 2005 levels by 2020. This is about 3% below U.S. ghg levels in 1990; 1990 is the baseline year used by the nations of the world. There is an additional 10% reduction of ghg’s projected via investments in the prevention of deforestation outside the United States, and there could be a few percent more reductions through other means. This could add up to about a 20% reduction by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. The world’s international climate negotiators have called for industrialized countries to reduce their emissions by 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020.

Upstream, Downstream: It appears that the cap is a mix of “upstream” and “downstream.” “Upstream” means the earliest point at which carbon fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) or other global warming pollutants enter the economy; “downstream” means at a point further along. Continue reading

EPA NOT halting MountainTopRemoval permits

Cross Posted from Its Getting Hot In Here, posted by Dana. The fight aint anywhere close to over, unfortunately. I think this is still a victory, but it should also teach us to be a little more weary and thorough when we hear something that sounds real good.

It saddens me to post a correction here — the AP stories and hundreds of news stories were overstating the victory against mountaintop removal yesterday. And they still are this morning, actually. What really happened is the EPA took action to put on hold two valley fill permits and indicated that hundreds of other pending applications would come under much more strict review.

That’s right, “review” not “moratorium.”

The confusion is so big the EPA put out this grumpy little press release–here’s a depressing clip for you:

EPA will take a close look at other permits that have been held back because of the 4th Circuit litigation. We fully anticipate that the bulk of these pending permit applications will not raise environmental concerns.

You can still call the White House and leave a message thanking President Obama for taking this important first step and then ask for a real moratorium on these permits. 202-456-1111

Billionaires for Coal Celebrate Dominion in Richmond

Fun was to be had today in Richmond, Virginia around noon today, at the offices of Dominion Resources.  About two dozen folks identifying themselves as “Billionaires for Coal” assembled  to ostensibly voice their praise for the company’s many coal-fired power plants.

Dressed in formal attire and sipping beverages from wine glasses, the group chanted pro-coal, anti-environment slogans and held signs expressing similar sentiments. In addition to rousing recitations such as, “Up with sea levels, up with profits,” the mid-day merriment included a live bluegrass performance by ‘The We Love Money String Band’ who frequently reassured their audience that they’re “only in it for the money.”

Addressing recent displays of opposition to Dominion’s proposed Wise County coal plant, as well as the escalating presence of anti-coal activism on an international scale, Stan Sneezley an alleged billionaire from Harrisonburg said. “I am insulted by all of these people talking about asthma and climate change and their children’s future. These people obviously don’t care about me and my money at all! I say if a few million kids have to wheeze a little for me to breath easy, then so be it! I’m rich!”

The theatrical display at the corner of 8th and Cary bewildered and amused passing motorists and pedestrians. Though the group’s signs and chants kept on message with the façade of billionaires celebrating their controversial investments, leaflets distributed to on-lookers shed a different light on the events of the day. Made to look like large dollar bills, these leaflets revealed that the demonstration was in-fact organized by Blue Ridge Earth First! (BREF!), the same environmental organization that twice staged protests blocking entrance to Dominion’s Tredegar St. headquarters in the Spring and Summer of last year. Citing coal’s role as the chief cause of climate-change among other grievances, the leaflets starkly displayed the alleged “billionaires” alignment with the breadth of grassroots opposition to Dominion Power.

Breaking character, Luis, an Earth First! activist from Charlottesville put it plainly, “Coal is dirty, dangerous and deadly. The public knows it and our political representatives are beginning to reflect our concerns on the matter. The one and only reason that companies like Dominion are still pushing for new coal plants is money. By continuing to pursue a new coal-fired power plant in Wise County, Dominion is saying that the wealth of it’s investors is more important than the health and well-being of that area’s residents.”

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.