Coal Ash News and Media
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Lisa Evans is an attorney specializing in hazardous waste law. Ms. Evans has been active in hazardous waste litigation and advocacy for over 25 years. Since 2006, she has been a senior administrative counsel for Earthjustice. Lisa’s blog was originally posted here.
You have to acknowledge the tenacity of Rep. David McKinley (R, WV). Just three months (and only 42 working days) after EPA signed its first-ever coal ash rule, McKinley has introduced a new coal ash bill that guts the new EPA rule and protects the polluters who finance his campaigns.
During a hearing last week on McKinley’s bill, it became clear that, though the EPA’s final coal ash rule already gave much away to the utilities, the House majority won’t abide by any reasonable rules governing toxic ash disposal. The result is an exceedingly dangerous bill that will permanently give polluters a free pass to dump the second largest industrial waste stream in the nation without any accountability to the communities they are fouling.
So how does the new bill eliminate, weaken and/or delay coal ash requirements critical to protecting public health and safety?
Let us count the ways:
Late Friday afternoon, after many had gone home for the weekend, news broke that The Department of Justice filed federal charges in all three of NC’s federal district courts against Duke Energy for violations of the Clean Water Act. Duke is charged with 9 misdemeanor violations for polluting four of NC’s rivers. In order to settle the charges, Duke Energy’s plea bargain includes $68.2 million in fines and restitution and $34 million for community service and mitigation projects – totaling over $102 million, which already garnered widespread media coverage after Duke’s announcement Feb. 18, 2015 in a financial disclosure statement. No individuals will be charged in connection to the violations. The deal will ultimately need the approval of a federal judge.
The federal grand jury probe has been ongoing since last February when Duke dumped nearly 39,000 tons of coal ash and 24 million gallons of wastewater into the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina. That’s a total of 140,000 tons of toxic waste and wastewater combined into the sensitive eco-system of the Dan River. Four of the federal misdemeanor charges are for the Dan River ash disaster. Additional charges accuse Duke Energy of illegally draining coal ash and wastewater at three other power plants: the Catawba River from the Riverbend power plant just west of Charlotte; the Neuse River from the H.F. Lee plant; the French Broad River from the Asheville plant. The charges include failure of Duke officials to maintain treatment system equipment at the Dan River plant and the Cape Fear power plant in Chatham County.
In a plea deal to match other major environmental disaster plea deals, Duke Energy appears to be expecting fines around $100 million to resolve, in part, the federal criminal investigation initiated after the massive Dan River coal ash disaster in 2014. Official announcements are pending in the days to come about the criminal charges, but the $100 million fines were discovered in federal disclosure filings and a Duke press release on Feb. 18 and were reported by the Charlotte Observer. The $100 million that Duke Energy disclosed in its earning report as “probable financial exposure” is expected to go to fines, community-service, and mitigation projects.
It has been just one year since a Duke Energy facility had an impoundment failure, dumping up to 39,000 tons of coal ash and 24 million gallons of wastewater into the Dan River. The company already reported spending $20 million to clean up the Dan River site itself, although 90% of the ash still remains in the river. In addition to the federal criminal probe on this disaster, Duke Energy is being sued by multiple organizations including SACE for its ongoing coal ash pollution at the Dan River site. This case has yet to be settled or resolved. A suite of other conservation groups and Riverkeepers represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center have also taken Duke Energy to court to resolve coal ash contamination problems at its 13 other leaky impoundments. Yesterday’s financial disclosure does nothing to resolve these cases or indicate financial culpability to settle them independently.
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015
Mitch Reid, Program Director
Alabama Rivers Alliance
In a presentation to the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, Alabama Rivers Alliance will outline the opportunity to fix the problem and protect rivers and drinking water
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A number of coal ash waste sites in Alabama are operating under expired permits that have been extended for years without being updated, according to state records. And with new national safeguards for coal ash disposal poised to be finalized this month, the Alabama Rivers Alliance is calling on Alabama’s Environmental Management Commission to bring these facilities up to date in ways that truly protect drinking water and public health.
“With as many toxic chemicals as we know there are in coal ash, and with so many disposal sites sitting next to rivers that provide Alabama families and communities with drinking water, we can’t let this pollution go unaccounted for any longer,” said Cindy Lowry, executive director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance. “There’s far too much at risk.”
One year ago today, Duke Energy dumped nearly 39,000 tons of coal ash and 24 million gallons of wastewater into the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina. That’s a total of 140,000 tons of toxic waste and wastewater combined into the sensitive eco-system of the Dan River. By the end of two weeks, a dark grey plume of this toxic by-product of coal-fired power had traveled 70 miles downstream, and where it settled on the riverbed. The spill and its aftermath
Enough coal ash poured into the Dan River to fill 20 to 32 Olympic-sized swimming pools with toxic waste. Source: Appalachian Voicesmade coal ash a national news story throughout 2014. The outrage of community members and advocates across the state, combined with the media attention to the environmental disaster eventually exposed cozy relationships between Duke and the state agencies that were supposed to be protecting the public and NC’s waterways. Today, communities across the state are left with the foreboding possibility that a similar disaster could unfold at one or all of Duke’s 14 leaking sites.
Last month, EPA finally released its long-awaited rules on coal ash. EPA was prompted by an even bigger coal ash disaster in Kingston, TN that occurred six years ago. Despite the clear risks, the agency declined to regulate the toxic substance as “hazardous” and offered only a weak set of rules that leave accountability to the utilities themselves, state environmental agencies, and citizen suits. Already, Congress is trying to dismantle even this inadequate rule. In the absence of strong, federal safeguards, there are 3 important steps that NC communities, state agencies, the legislature, and Duke Energy can take to ensure that a coal ash disaster won’t happen in NC again.
Asheville, N.C. – Today www.SoutheastCoalAsh.org and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) unveiled a new tool to help concerned citizens, activists, policymakers, and reporters better understand the potential hazards of toxic coal ash waste throughout our region.
The Create-Your-Own Coal Ash Report feature on our interactive website, www.SoutheastCoalAsh.org, analyzes detailed data from more than 450 coal ash storage ponds (impoundments) across the region to generate custom reports based on the coal plants, states, and/or utilities that users select. You can visit the report portal page to generate a custom report at http://www.CoalAshReport.org.
Our 9-state region is extremely vulnerable to pollution and catastrophic dam failures from coal ash impoundments because it is home to 40% of the nation’s coal ash impoundments and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates a disproportionate number of those as posing serious threats to nearby communities and infrastructure. The report comes as EPA faces a court-ordered December 19 deadline to finalize rules for coal ash, which is currently less regulated than household garbage despite its toxic load of lead, arsenic, and hexavalent chromium.
“We are still waiting on federal rules to address this completely unregulated waste stream which continues to pose serious threats to our communities and waterways,” says Ulla Reeves, High Risk Energy Program Director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “Increasing public understanding, awareness, and access to information about coal ash issues in our backyards is one of the ways we will eventually clean up these dangerous dumpsites and prevent the next devastating coal ash spill.”
These custom reports offer another way for the public to learn more and share information about dangerous coal ash impoundments that threaten water quality and public health. This information was made publicly available for the first time on the www.SoutheastCoalAsh.org website in December 2012 and both the website and this new report-generating tool are regularly updated with the latest impoundment-specific coal ash data.
In the days and weeks after the Dan River disaster, North Carolina legislators made bold promises to protect the public from dangerous and polluting coal ash sites. Since May there’s been several stops and starts on coal ash legislation, and for a time it looked like the General Assembly would fail to pass any legislation.
Instead, the General Assembly passed a bill last night that falls far short of the protections North Carolinians desperately need. In the early days of this legislative session, we were hopeful that North Carolina lawmakers were going to put forth a strong bill to force Duke Energy to clean up all of its polluting sites.
Unfortunately, the bill they passed actually undermines current groundwater protection laws, fails to clean up 10 of North Carolina’s dangerous and polluting coal ash impoundments and lets Duke off the hook for the harm their dumpsites are causing communities and waterways statewide. As a News & Observer recent Editorial aptly stated, Senate Bill 729 “proposes to solve the coal ash problem by declaring it not a problem. Or, at least not an urgent problem.”
Last week the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) finally agreed to pay $27.8 million to more than 800 property owners who suffered damage from the massive 2008 Kingston coal ash spill. The spill is one the largest of it’s kind in US history, and spread over one billion gallons of toxic coal ash over 300 acres of aquatic ecosystems, farmlands and neighborhoods. TVA previously purchased over 180 properties in the spill area for approximately $147 million, and while this is likely to be the last wave of settlements, the impacts of this disaster will continue to be felt for decades to come.
We applaud TVA for finally compensating those directly impacted by the spill, while recognizing that the surrounding community, rivers and environment will never be the same and that residents in Perry County, AL who received much of the Kingston ash waste have yet to be compensated for their pollution burdens from this disaster.
As long as our utilities continue burning coal without proper regulations and oversight for their coal ash dumpsites, communities nationwide remain at risk from devastating coal ash spills and pollution problems.
This post originally appeared in the South Florida Sun Sentinel on August 5, 2014. You can access the original article here.
By Lynn Ringenberg, MD
A national epidemic has come to Florida. It is a silent threat, growing every day. Pollution contaminates our waters, poisons our fish and wildlife and increases our risk of cancer and other diseases.
The culprit is coal ash, and here in Florida we generate more than six million tons of this toxic waste every year, making our state seventh in the nation for coal ash generation. Even though it’s full of dangerous contaminants, coal ash is even less regulated than our household garbage.
In February, a coal ash pond in North Carolina ruptured, sending 140,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River along the Virginia border. In 2008, a coal ash pond in Tennessee burst, sending more than one billion gallons of coal ash into the Clinch and Emory Rivers and damaging 40 nearby homes. While the coal ash problem in Florida isn’t as obvious, it is still just as dangerous.
Coal ash is the waste left over when coal is burned for electricity. In 2007, power plants nationwide generated 140 million tons of this waste — enough to fill a line of train cars stretching from the North Pole to the South Pole. Many power plants simply dump their coal ash into unlined and unmonitored pits. There are no federal regulations ensuring safe disposal and handling of this waste, so coal ash can often contaminate nearby lakes, rivers, streams and drinking water aquifers with toxic pollutants. Across the country, coal ash has contaminated water at more than 200 sites.
Florida’s most recent instance of contamination is along the Apalachicola River. On June 5, environmental groups sued Gulf Power Company for illegally discharging coal ash into the river at its Scholz Electric Generating Plant, a violation of the Clean Water Act. Water tests near the coal ash dumps found that arsenic levels coming out of the unlined pits were 300 times higher than federal safety standards. High levels of cadmium, chromium — well known carcinogens — as well as lead, selenium and mercury were also found.
With legislature’s failure to pass strong coal ash bill, DENR and Duke must fulfill cleanup obligation
August 1, 2014 –In spite of 11th hour negotiations Thursday night, the North Carolina House and Senate failed to come to agreement on their weak, incomplete coal ash management bills, putting the impetus back on Duke Energy and the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources to remove coal ash from unlined pits near waterways.
The Senate proposed an inadequate bill back in June; the House significantly weakened that proposal; and ultimately, the conference committee found itself at a stalemate to address North Carolina’s coal ash problem.
“This is a multi-layered failure of leadership. Both chambers failed to offer the comprehensive cleanup plan they promised at the outset of session,” said Donna Lisenby, global coal campaign coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance. “Then they failed to take any action at all. We hope that lawmakers’ return in November will be a reboot of priorities. All North Carolina communities need protection from coal ash.”
Aging, unlined coal ash lagoons are leaching arsenic, chromium, mercury, lead, cadmium, boron, and other pollutants into rivers, streams and groundwater at every single Duke Energy facility in this state. Under public pressure, Duke Energy has already publicly volunteered to move ash from the Dan River, Riverbend, Sutton and Asheville facilities into lined landfills away from waterways. In the absence of clear directives from the legislature, they must keep that promise.
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9/15/2010- 60 Minutes Video: 130 Million Tons of Waste