Saturday, January 24, 2009

New TVA Sludge video posted

New video from Assignment Earth on TVA Ash disaster in Kingston.

Hurricane CREEKKEEPER, John L. Wathen, Donna Lisenby, Upper Watauga RIVERKEEPER, and Sandra Diaz from Appalachian Voices are prominately featured as photographer and seen taking readings for samples.

John L. Wathen
Hurricane Creekkeeper,
Friends of Hurricane Creek

Members of

Who has the authority to say someone else
is not being a good steward of the environment

Anyone who notices

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Radio Interviews on Coal Ash

These interviews were done by Donna Lisenby and John L. Wathen concerning our experiences in and around Kingston Tn. We were the first citizens to get in and retrieve valid samples that proved TVA had not been completely transparent in their assessment of the damages.

This was done on the way home from Kingston by Bob Kincaid, Head On Radio . Net (Horn Radio) out of West Virginia.

This one is of Donna on Ring of Fire with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper's weekly radio show, Living at the Barricades, recently produced an episode on the coal ash spill along the Emory River in Tennessee.  The show features an interview with Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Same old (toxic) story

From the Baltimore Sun

Same old (toxic) story

Our view: Latest coal ash disaster underscores the need for federal intervention; state regulations such as Maryland's can't solve the problem alone

If the experience in Gambrills, where wells serving more than 80 homes were found to be contaminated by chemicals leaching from a coal ash dump, weren't enough to demonstrate the need to regulate these growing environmental hazards, the recent problems of theTennessee Valley Authority have surely sealed the deal.

Last month, about 5.4 million cubic yards of coal plant sludge escaped a containment pond and spread across 300 acres near the Kingston Fossil Plant in East Tennessee. As was the case in Maryland, drinking water supplies were poisoned with lead, arsenic, chromium and other highly toxic substances.

Admittedly, the scale of the two events is not the same. The cost to clean up the Tennessee spill is expected to reach hundreds of millions of dollars, which will dwarf the $45 million Constellation Energy Group has agreed to spend to make things right in Anne Arundel County.

Here, the money is being used not only to contain the mess but to connect homes to public water and pay for any health problems or property losses stemming from the ash dump. The Maryland Department of the Environment has chosen to adopt new standards for landfills that handle coal ash - although the fledgling program is woefully underfunded.

But the two incidents in Maryland and Tennessee are hardly isolated events. Environmental groups estimate that there are more than 1,300 coal ash disposal sites in the country. A high percentage are in facilities such as a pond or former gravel pit with no lining to prevent groundwater contamination.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has studied the problem and concluded - well, not much. The agency has found ample evidence of pollution, but when it comes to devising regulations to protect human health? So far, nothing.

It's not easily solved. Society can't just wish away the millions of tons of waste produced each year by coal-fired power plants. Some forms of coal ash can be recycled into building materials, but that's not a complete solution. Landfills and waste ponds continue to be used as industrial dumps, and the public water supply deserves to be protected now.

States like Maryland can adopt their own forms of regulation, but that's not going to solve a national problem and might even make it worse if mountains of ash end up getting shipped to states with lax environmental standards. The EPA must take this on before another dam breaks or waste dump floods and more communities are put at risk.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Martin County, Tug River Disaster

Coal ash is not the only threat from poorly engineered ponds.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

TVA Ash Spill, Interactive Mapping Page

For those who want a birds eye view of the Kingston Disaster go to Wansoo has generously offered to set up such a page at any disaster we face in the future using this as a template.

You can even go in for a "Birds Eye View" from Google from before the disaster.

With this we can update the maps instantly then send out links for anyone in the world to follow with a simple click. 
Check out the blog that comes with it.

Dr Wansoo Im and I have created a model mapping page to cover the disaster and update with video, photos, and data.

Coal Day of Action

**Please  forward far and wide on all press list, myspaces, facebooks and list servs**.

Martin Luther King Day chosen for "watershed moment"


Monday, January 19th, community organizers in Knoxville, Nashville, and Chattanooga, Tenn., are holding public demonstrations against TVA.  All three protests will begin simultaneously at noon. 


The Chattanooga demonstration will begin at noon outside the TVA offices on 1101 Market Street.  The Knoxville noon protest will be held in Market Square, outside TVA's corporate headquarters.  The Nashville protest will take place as part of the city's historic MLK-Day parade. 


Protestors are critical of TVA's three disasters in three weeks across the Tennessee River watershed.  "Three disasters in three weeks isn't an isolated incident.  This is system-failure," Knoxville student Chris Martin said.  "[TVA is] the largest purchaser of coal in North America, and one of the largest state providers of carbon-based energy on the globe," Martin said.  "If they don't start to budge on coal, clean energy is going nowhere."


TVA currently maintains 18 coal plants and over 50 industrial waste sites in the Tennessee watershed region, the network of waterways surrounding the Tennessee River.  TheEmory River in Roane County, the Ocoee River in Polk County, and Widows Creek in Jackson County, Ala., have all met with disaster in recent weeks.


Environmental justice and stewardship groups argue that the contamination includes hazardous materials, with independent water-testing to back up their claims.  Local governments and medical authorities have begun organizing evacuations of contaminated neighborhoods near Harriman, in East Tennessee.  Federal agencies continue to deny any risk of toxics.

 "We chose to include this in the state capitol's MLK parade so people will never let this happen again," said Nashville community-organizer Anna Graves.  "This is our water, our air that we're talking about here."


 "We're here to dramatize the destruction of our community," Katuah Earth First! member Amanda Cagle said in Chattanooga.  "They're destroying our mountains, our streams, our neighborhoods.  Coal kills, from the cradle to the grave."






Chris Martin




Amanda Cagle




Anna Graves


Chris Irwin
865 257-4029

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Emory River, Before and After

Emory River, Before and After

WATERKEEPERS on Cross Fire with RFK Jr.

WATERKEEPER, Donna Lisenby discusses the Kingston Coal Ash Disaster with RFK Jr.

Coal is Dirty, Dangerous, and Depleting

Monday, January 12, 2009

10 Point Blueprint for Clean Water

WATERKEEPER Alliance polled it's members around the country and came up with a 10 point Blueprint for the next administration to follow to clean water in America.

I was privileged to be able to give my viewpoint on coal in general. Coal can never be made anything less that Dirty, Dangerous and Depleting.

From the WATERKEEPER magazine...

Coal Mining

Mountaintop coal mining is the scourge of communities in Appalachia and in other rural areas across the U.S. Entire mountains are blown apart to allow access to seams of coal that lie within. Emotions run high as dust, blasting, water pollution and flooding push people out of their homes.

For those brave enough to challenge illegally granted permits in the courts, threats against home and family are now rampant. Communities find themselves embroiled in difficult and lengthy efforts to hold regulatory agencies accountable. Citizens must hire independent hydrologists, biologists, and other legal and technical experts to challenge illegal practices at great personal and financial expense. They find themselves confronting angry neighbors who work in the mines — one family’s livelihood pitted against another family’s home and heritage.

Today, in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, the situation is explosive — literally. Streams disappear in an instant as coal companies blast apart mountains and bulldoze rubble into valleys. These “valley fills” have buried or damaged more than 1,200 miles of irreplaceable headwater streams.

What’s left is a wasteland.

More than 400,000 acres of the world’s most productive and diverse temperate hardwood forests have already disappeared and it is predicted that that figure could increase to 1.4 million acres — 2,200 square miles — by the end of the decade if nothing is done to limit this practice.

In addition, the coal industry emits more greenhouse gases and mercury into the atmosphere than any other industry, as the nation’s 1,100 coal-fired power plants spew roughly 50 tons of mercury into our environment each year.

How Green Were Our Valleys
By John Wathen, Hurricane Creekkeeper
Many facets of mining — such as long wall mining, strip mining and abandoned mines — left from an era before laws were passed to protect the environment have assaulted Hurricane Creek, here in west Alabama. In West Virginia, it is called mountain top removal. In Kentucky, cross ridge mining. In Tennessee, it is peak reduction. And in Alabama, it is plain old strip mining. All of it is insanity.

Many coalmine operators still propagate the myth that “we are not going to hurt anyone or the environment.” I have worked all over the country with Citizens Coal Council to expose the truth about coal. I have not yet been in a community where the operator did not say “we will be good neighbors” and “we will fix anything we break.”

Tell that to Marian Plovic of Washington, Penn. Her house on Route 136 was subsided by long-wall mining on Christmas day in 1998. The house tilted three inches and continued until it had tilted 25 inches on a diagonal slant. The foundation was broken beyond repair so a repair crew raised her house up off the foundation and built a new concrete foundation. Before the house could be lowered onto the new foundation, however, it cracked beyond use. The Plovics moved back into the home in late February 1999 and by mid-March, the house had tilted about 20 inches over 40 feet. As of today, Marian and her husband are still living in and repairing their home.

The house I once rented on Shoal Creek in Jefferson County, Ala., is now standing in water. The house has long ago rotted into the river but the fireplace is still standing in water as a reminder of what was once a beautiful fishing camp. Old growth forests of 100-year-old oaks and hickories stand dead in 3 feet of water. The water level did not rise. The riverbanks sank into the river in what is referred to in long-wall country as a planned “earthquake.” Subsidence is the one absolute in long-wall mining. It will happen, of that there is no doubt.

Simply put, coal is not our salvation. It is not clean, cheap or efficient. Coal is benign enough when it’s left in the ground, where it works as a filtering system for aquifers below. The trouble starts when it’s exposed to the atmosphere: It starts to oxidize. The oxidization process and contact with rain causes the sulfur contained in coal to become H2So4 or sulfuric acid, also known as acid mine drainage (AMD). Acid from the mine waste and overburden cause heavy metals to be dissolved and deposited in the water, which causes a ferrous bacteria to accumulate or armor the stream bottom, making it uninhabitable for fish or wildlife. In the Hurricane Creek basin, we have many examples of AMD from past mining as well as current operations.

Twenty-five years ago, Hurricane Creek was included on the 303(d) list, a list of impaired streams not meeting designated use classification, for mine tailings, Ph imbalance, iron, aluminum and others. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) was charged to complete the total maximum daily loads (TMDL) showing the amount of pollutants allowed to be permitted. ADEM sat on it for 20 years until Alabama Rivers Alliance and Friends of Hurricane Creek/Hurricane Creekkeeper sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 4 to force ADEM to comply. EPA performed the survey but when the process was completed, we still faced another dilemma: how to implement the reductions?

There are five coal permits up for “voluntary revocation and renewal.” A 30-day notice and comment period is associated with each. None has been answered and no reissuance has occurred. Drummond Coal Co. has been in comment since December 2006. ADEM refuses to deny or issue the permit and claims that they are waiting on judgment on another case we filed years ago against Tuscaloosa Resources Inc. ADEM accepted a permit “voluntary revocation and re-issuance” while the final appeal was under way. Four Republican judges voted unanimously to overthrow the permit. ADEM reissued anyway, starting the entire process all over again.

Dam failures occurred at one local coal mine when tons of dirt and trees used for a temporary dam blew out and inundated the creek with extremely turbid water and woody debris. No fines were issued.

A few years later, a concrete dam failed, dumping millions of gallons of acidic water into Hurricane Creek. Most strip mines in our area are in acidic veins that produce hot or contaminated water. During the spill, millions of gallons of this water was released into the creek. Testing would have given us some indication of the expected impact to fish and wildlife. Neither ADEM nor Alabama Surface Mining Commission (ASMC) brought sample bottles to the spill site for testing so no Ph test was done on the coalmine failure.

It was quite obvious from an aerial view that the spillway was not constructed with steel reinforcement as the permit required. When I pointed it out to the Mining Commission’s inspector, he stated that he did not know if steel was required. But on inspection of the permit, he found that I was right and it was required. A violation like that is extremely egregious and could, if enforced diligently, cost Black Warrior Minerals their permit. Instead of issuing a new violation for the infraction, the inspector rewrote the existing violation to include “failure to maintain sediment basins.”

Now there is a rock quarry operating in the pit with no permit at all while ADEM sits asleep at the wheel.

Both Hurricane Creekkeeper and the Black Warrior Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke and his staff are now deep in the fight for accountability in the mining industry here. While we are both out gunned by the courts and industry, we continue to change things with each lawsuit. We will take back our creek and river, and give them back to our communities in better shape than we found them. That’s the Waterkeeper promise around the world, and we plan to keep it.

Recent Rollbacks: 
EPA and the Army Corps issued a new rule making it legal to dump “fill material” directly into waterways. With a simple 404 Permit from the Army Corps, they simply changed the definition of the term “fill” to signify compliance with the Clean Water Act. This rule meant that the Army Corps of Engineers could loosen its mitigation standards for waterways destroyed by mountaintop mining.

The U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM) proposed significant changes to the “Stream Buffer Zone Rule.” The existing rule specifically precludes mining activities within 100 feet of a perennial stream or an intermittent stream without a variance. OSM’s proposed changes would exempt the most devastating surface mining activities from coverage under the requirement, allowing for the creation of valley fills and huge coal-slurry waste ponds.

The Bush administration reversed a rule authorizing the Bureau of Land Management to deny mining operations on federal lands if the operations could cause “substantial irreparable harm” to resources and were unable to be mitigated.

The Interior Department overturned a policy allowing only a 5-acre waste site for every 20 acres of mining activity, in favor of a policy that did not limit the size of mining waste sites.


Photo by John L. Wathen, 
Hurricane Creekkeeper
Acid mine drainage can cause devastating effects on stream bottoms, creating a toxic environment for fish and wildlife.

TVA Coal Ash Holes

I am new to the blogging thing so it might be a little rocky to begin with.

I am John L. Wathen, Hurricane Creekkeeper
I work for a non-profit in Tuscaloosa Alabama, Friends of Hurricane Creek

We are members of the WATERKEEPER Alliance and represented globally with close to 200 member groups.

I was recently called to Harriman Tennessee by Chris Erwin, United Mountain Defense, to help document the nations largest environmental disaster, barring loss of human life, in history.

I will try here to keep folks informed as to what is going on in the coal industry around here as well as covering national disasters when possible.

Here is a group of photo links from my work up to now on the Kingston TVA coal ash disaster and the more recent TVA, Widows Creek, blow-out as well.