Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Coal ash hearings criticized, as no hearings planned near Tennessee

WASHINGTON — One irony did not go unnoticed Monday as environmentalists and coal-industry representatives squared off in the first public hearing on proposals to regulate coal ash.

None of the planned hearings are in Tennessee, where a massive coal ash spill at TVA's Kingston coal-fired power plant triggered the current effort. 

Rebecca Kolberg, an environmental activist from Pasadena, Md., said it's an "outrage" and an "insult to the community" that none of the hearings will take place near the East Tennessee town.

The Environmental Protection Agency is holding seven hearings before an expected ruling next year on how coal ash might be regulated. The most stringent proposal on the table would designate the material, which contains mercury, arsenic and other potentially poisonous substances, as hazardous.
Environmentalists say this would protect the public from cancer and other health problems associated with the substances found in fly ash and other coal combustion byproducts.
Witnesses representing utilities and companies that use coal waste in commercial products countered that more aggressive regulation would drive up the cost of electricity and reduce recycling of coal waste, forcing more of it to be stored in waste dumps.
They support a more modest alternative that would leave regulatory decisions to the states.
None of the people scheduled to testify at Monday's hearing live near the Kingston coal-fired electric plant, but witnesses made many references to the December 2008 spill of 5 million cubic yards of ash at the plant.
Michael Jackson, district attorney for the county in Alabama where the Kingston ash was taken for disposal, said the area was chosen because the people living there are poor and powerless.
"We need help," Jackson said.
Several speakers showed blown-up photos of the devastation caused when a dike burst at a storage pond at the Kingston site.

3 minutes to speak

About 200 people were scheduled to testify at Monday's hearing, which was expected to go past its scheduled 9 p.m. ending time. More than 2,800 comments about the proposed regulations have been filed electronically. In response to many requests, the deadline for submitting comments was extended recently by two months to Nov. 19, and two additional public hearings were added.

Nick Goldstein with the American Road & Transportation Builders Association said the use of coal ash in cement is an "environmental success story" because the ash strengthens the cement, avoids the need to store the ash in landfills and cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions, partly through less-frequent replacement of cement.

EPA officials say they don't plan to stop the safe use of ash and other coal waste in some products, but Goldstein and others representing the ash recycling sector said the proposed regulations would stigmatize the material and decrease its use. Danny Gray, executive vice president of Louisville-based Charah Inc., said his company's management of coal combustion waste already has declined based on publicity about possible dangers.
Environmentalists who support the safe recycling of coal ash have said designation as hazardous would make companies more likely to push its reuse to avoid costly disposal.
Eric Schaeffer with the Environmental Integrity Project castigated the EPA for not doing more to investigate possible damage to water caused by coal waste. He encouraged the agency to follow the law and science without getting bogged down in the back and forth that characterized Monday's testimony.
"I don't think this is the type of decision you can make by letting us fight like gladiators," Schaeffer said.
But fight they did, with each speaker given three minutes at a small lectern in a basement conference room of an Arlington, Va., hotel. Four EPA representatives sat at a small table, with one counting down the time.

Emotions pour out

Speaking in favor of the proposed regulations were representatives of the Sierra Club, Earthjustice and other major environmental groups, as well as conservation groups such as the Izaak Walton League and the National Wildlife Federation.
Opponents included the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, which represents 80 utility companies, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the National Ready Mix Concrete Association.
Some speakers recited their prepared testimony with little emotion, reading at a rapid clip to stay within time constraints. Others, such as John Wathen of Tuscaloosa, Ala., were angry.
Wathen, with his white hair in a ponytail and wearing a T-shirt that read "Clean coal is a dirty lie," described himself as an environmental investigator. He said he canoed at the Kingston site shortly after the spill to gather samples. And he said he saw ash dredged from the site being intentionally washed into a creek at the Perry County, Ala., disposal site.
Wathen told the EPA officials that if they fail to adopt the proposed coal ash regulations, "you're nothing more than environmental criminals."


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Coal Ash and the Gruesome Lethal Lakes

Presented by WATERKEEPER Alliance, Your Hurricane CREEKKEEPER and The Dirty Lie.com


Wednesday, August 4, 2010


August 3, 2010
Washington, Pennsylvania
Coalfield Citizen Leaders Say White House, Interior Secretary Salazar Refuse to Enforce the Federal Strip Mining Law
Today is the 33rd anniversary of the 1977 passage of the landmark federal mining reclamation law, Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). A coalition of community groups, from states where the coal industry continues to damage lands and waters and put lives at risk, said today that the Obama administration is deliberately refusing to fully enforce environmental laws being broken by the coal mining industry.
Citizens Coal Council includes 21 grassroots organizations from 15 states where coal mining companies are destroying mountains, streams, prime farmlands and western grasslands, as well as polluting water, failing to restore mined lands, and leaving communities vulnerable to blasting, floods, landslides and subsidence.
Aimee Erickson, Executive Director of Citizens Coal Council, said "Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is working to undercut the federal law by promoting weaker regulations and has ignored citizens’ pleas to fully enforce SMCRA.”
"The White House and Secretary Salazar refused to even think about improving environmental enforcement at the Minerals Management Service until an oil company's terrible performance killed people and damaged our wetlands, Gulf Coast fisheries and beaches," said Erickson.
"Irresponsible coal mining companies have already killed people, poisoned rivers, destroyed families' homes, left communities without drinking water, and caused devastating floods. But the White House and Secretary Salazar have created a regulatory environment that lets the most irresponsible companies violate federal and state laws with impunity," Erickson continued.
Citizens Coal Council Acting Chairman John Wathen said "When citizens met last year with Interior officials to encourage consideration of other nominees to run the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), because President Obama's choice, Joseph Pizarchik, had let the coal industry get away with destructive practices in Pennsylvania, we
were told not to worry. We were told that the Administration and Secretary Salazar would set the policy. A year later, Secretary Salazar’s policy continues to keep OSMRE's record of subservience to the worst lawbreakers in the coal industry. Interior also continues to green light strip mine permits where full reclamation under SMCRA is highly unlikely to be achieved. While the OSMRE has increased meetings with citizens, the agency reduces enforcement resources and allows states to fail to even meet the minimum required number of inspections under SMCRA.”
Attorney Tom FitzGerald, Director of the Kentucky Resources Council submitted the following comments regarding the Stream “Protection” Rule EIS scoping, which provides a good example of the many problems not yet addressed by Secretary Salazar.
The change in leadership offers a potential opportunity for a rededication to the principles of the 1977 mining law "to protect society and the environment from the adverse effects of surface coal mining operations" and to give effect to the mission of the Clean Water Act to "end water pollution". The state and federal regulatory agencies have the necessary tools to demand much more accountability in all forms of surface mine planning and performance with respect to mine planning, reducing the size and number of valley fills, reforming blasting regulations to better protect the public, restricting the appropriation of public streams for sediment control, eliminating new high and moderate hazard coal waste impoundments and requiring closure and dewatering of old ones; and broadening monitoring and pollution control obligations of coal companies. Unfortunately, the principles established by Congress have been lost in the hands of a federal agency that has, for the better part of its existence, been largely captive to the wishes of the industry it regulates.
Aimee Erickson also called upon Congress, through the Senate Energy Natural Resources Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee, to fulfill their oversight responsibilities under SMCRA.
Photo gallery of mine destruction
Aimee Erickson, Executive Director, Citizens Coal Council 724-222-5602
John Wathen, Acting Chair, Citizens Coal Council, Cell: 205-233-1680