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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tell ADEM to Hold Walter Energy Accountable


Tell ADEM to Hold Walter Energy Accountable

Tuscaloosa's drinking water is threatened by a coal slurry spill into a tributary of Alabama's North River -- which flows into Lake Tuscaloosa.
The spill dumped an unknown quantity of coal slurry - a byproduct of burning coal that typically contains toxic heavy metals - from a mine owned by Florida-based Walter Energy on July 15th.
While Walter Energy claimed that the slurry was non-toxic, tests of the water said otherwise -- showing high levels of arsenic and lead.1
As this slurry pollutes the North River and flows into Lake Tuscaloosa -- which provides drinking water for thousands, it's essential that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) holds Walter Energy accountable for this mess.
Tell the Alabama Department of Environmental Management: Make Walter Energy fully clean up the North River.
Currently, ADEM says Lake Tuscaloosa is unaffected and remains a safe source of drinking water. But there is no guarantee that it stays that way as the coal slurry continues to flow downstream.
According to Nelson Brooke of Black Warrior Riverkeeper, "It's not really a matter of if this is going to reach the lake, but when."2
It may be months before the environmental impacts and public health threats of this coal slurry spill are fully understood. In the time being, we can't let ADEM drag their feet on holding Walter Energy accountable and making them take immediate steps to clean up the North River.
Tell the Alabama Department of Environmental Management: Make Walter Energy fully clean up the North River.
1. First results in on coal slurry spill into river, CBS 42, July 24, 2011
2. Coal mine spill may impact Tuscaloosa water supply , CBS 42, July 18, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

North River has elevated toxins

North River has elevated toxins

Levels not deemed a danger to drinking water

Published: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 25, 2011 at 11:10 p.m.
Water samples taken in North River where coal slurry spilled last week show elevated levels of lead and arsenic, but officials say the amounts are well below levels that would pose a danger to the area’s drinking water.

Facts

The slurry

-Tests showed amounts that exceeded levels considered toxic to aquatic life if exposed over long periods of time.
-The levels of pollutants caused by the spill are far below amounts that would be considered dangerous to the water supply.
Tests conducted for the Alabama Surface Mining Commission showed that amounts did exceed levels considered toxic to aquatic life if exposed over long periods of time.
The slurry, a waste byproduct from coal mining, overflowed from an abandoned area of an underground coal mine in southern Fayette County where Jim Walter Resources was legally pumping the watery sediment. Pumping equipment malfunctioned, causing the slurry to spill into an unnamed creek and eventually Freeman Creek, a tributary of North River. North River flows into Lake Tuscaloosa, which provides drinking water for the city of Tuscaloosa.
Jimmy Junkin, director of the Waterworks and Sewer Department for the city of Tuscaloosa, said that the levels of pollutants caused by the spill are far below amounts that would be considered dangerous to the water supply.
Although the higher levels of lead and arsenic may not pose a threat to drinking water, they do cause concern for Black Warrior Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke.
“Elevated levels of lead and arsenic is nothing to sweep under the rug,” he said. “These are very serious pollutants. What it is ultimately going to mean for Lake Tuscaloosa and the drinking water supply I have no idea, but what it certainly means is that added pollutants are being put into the lake and that’s not a good thing.”

Randy Johnson, director of the Alabama Surface Mining Commission, said that clean-up of the affected area is under way and that no more slurry has entered the water. Heavy rainfall last week washed a lot of the sediment downstream, he said. The material dilutes as it travels downstream. He expects that additional test results that should be returned today will show decreased levels of the pollutants and sediment.
Scott Sanderford, Lakes Division manager for the city of Tuscaloosa, said that city officials are more concerned about sediment in the water than the effect on the drinking supply.
“We are cautiously monitoring the situation. We’re not concerned that it will affect the drinking water because of sheer capacity of Lake Tuscaloosa and our treatment process there is no harm to the public’s drinking water supply,” he said.
Sanderford said that the amount of naturally occurring lead and arsenic in the area sometimes exceeds the level that Jim Walter is permitted to discharge. Officials are monitoring the sediment created by the spill. Long-term sedimentation caused by development and erosion around the lakes is an ongoing concern for the city.
Alabama Department of Environmental Management spokesman Scott Hughes said that the agency is conducting an investigation and working with the Surface Mining Commission to monitor and provide oversight for the company’s clean-up.
Brooke said that he collected a water sample near Old Jasper Road and Woodson Bridge that the Black Warrior Riverkeeper organization is having tested.
“This has been downplayed,” he said. “What happened here was a coal slurry spill. We expected to find heavy metals and other pollutants. We haven’t gotten our sampling back yet, but we expect that our results will show similar pollutants.”
Reach Stephanie Taylor at
stephanie.taylor@tuscaloosa
news.com or 205-722-0210.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg gives $50 million to fight coal-fired power plants

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg will donate $50 million to the Sierra Club to support its nationwide campaign to eliminate coal-fired power plants.
Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune described the gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies, which will be spread out over four years, as “a game-changer, from our perspective.” The group will devote the money to its “Beyond Coal” campaign, which has helped block the construction of 153 new coal-fired power plants across the country since 2002.


(Jin Lee/Bloomberg) - New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg will donate $50 million to the Sierra Club to support its nationwide campaign to eliminate coal-fired power plants.
More on this Story
Brune said in a phone interview that the group will use the money “to identify the oldest, dirtiest coal-fired power plants, retire them and replace them with clean energy.” Some of the utilities the expanded campaign will focus on are in the Washington area, including the GenOn plant in Alexandria.
As mayor of New York, Bloomberg has pushed for environmentally friendly policies such as investing in renewable energy and making the city’s taxi fleet more efficient. But this is his largest financial contribution to an environmental effort, and the donation will significantly swell the Sierra Club’s $80 million annual budget.
The announcement, which Bloomberg and Brune will make together Thursday morning at the GenOn site, also underscores the extent to which environmentalists are focused on efforts beyond the Beltway, given the opposition in Congress to climate legislation. After the federal government failed to pass legislation imposing nationwide limits on greenhouse gas emissions, several environmental groups have shifted more resources to the state and local levels.
“We’re putting our faith in local communities to protect public heath and promote clean energy,” Brune said. “Congress has failed to do the job on that. We’re confident local communities can do the job where Congress hasn’t.”
Coal industry officials, however, questioned whether the campaign to phase out coal plants was realistic given the fact that they now supply close to half of the nation’s electricity.
“If their program were successful, where does the Sierra Club suggest we get our energy?” asked Lisa Camooso Miller, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a trade group. “Coal is American. It’s affordable. It adds to our quality of life.”
In some cases, the Sierra Club has joined with unusual allies in working to prevent new power plants, like in southwestern Arkansas, where the advocacy group and the Hempstead County Hunting Club are suing to block the construction of Southwestern Electric Power Co.’s $1.7 billion John W. Turk plant.
With Bloomberg’s donation, the Sierra Club plans to expand its “Beyond Coal” staff from about 100 people to nearly 200 full-time employees, which it will deploy in 46 states. Most of the staff will engage in grass-roots organizing, but some will work on lawsuits or social networking.
The group has just launched an extensive billboard advertising campaign in Washington’s Metro system, with pictures of young children who are described as “filters” for power plant pollution. Ads are running on a smaller scale in Chicago and New York and in some U.S. airports.
Brune said the group had chosen to focus its most recent advertising campaign in Washington because when it comes to the future of electricity production, “What happens in the larger D.C. area is quite important.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

LETTER: Clean Water Act under attack

LETTER: Clean Water Act under attack

Dear Editor: The Clean Water Act is under attack right now. On July 13, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 2018, the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011. To be clear, it should be called the Dirty Water Bill of 2011. This bill seeks to undermine protections our streams, rivers, and lakes have been afforded over the last forty years. Why? Because powerful interests who make money by polluting have been lobbying Congress. Polluters don’t like the Environmental Protection Agency utilizing its federal oversight role and asking state agencies such as the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to do a more thorough job. Polluting interests in Alabama believe EPA is meddling in “state affairs” and it just so happens that ADEM agrees with them. Unfortunately, it seems the majority of our congressmen agree too.
This bill strips EPA’s oversight capabilities and allows ADEM to be an even weaker enforcer of the Clean Water Act than it already is. Our sources of clean water for drinking, bathing, cooking, recreation, swimming, and fishing are at risk. The Dirty Water Bill now heads to the U.S. Senate. If you care about clean water and healthy future generations, now is the time to contact your Senators.

Nelson Brooke, Riverkeeper
Black Warrior Riverkeeper
Birmingham

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Slurry mix spills, flows into Freeman Creek

Slurry mix spills, flows into Freeman Creek

Malfunctioning pumping equipment sent slurry, a waste by-product from coal mining, into Freeman Creek over the weekend.
Buy Photo Submitted photo
Published: Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 18, 2011 at 10:51 p.m.
Dr. David Hinton enjoys the beauty of Freeman Creek when he works on his farm in the northeast corner of Tuscaloosa County.
But on Friday afternoon, he noticed something wasn’t right.
“I was off Friday afternoon and was spending some time on a tractor,” he said. “When I looked at the creek, it looked like there was an oil spill.”
Hinton went down to the creek to examine the water, and discovered that despite its appearance, it did not have a oily feel. Still, the normally clear creek was murky and full of discolored sediment, he said.
The sediment was slurry, a waste by-product from coal mining.
The slurry came from just over the county line in southern Fayette County, where Brookwood-based Jim Walter Resources was legally pumping the watery sediment into an abandoned area of an underground coal mine. When the pumping equipment malfunctioned, the slurry spilled into an unnamed creek and flowed into Freeman Creek, a tributary of North River.
Some of the slurry flowed into the river, but none has been detected in Lake Tuscaloosa, said Scott Hughes, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
Lake Tuscaloosa, which was created by damming North River, provides drinking water for the city of Tuscaloosa. The water gets treated when it is pulled from the river and before it is distributed to customers. Hughes said ADEM notified the Tuscaloosa Water Department so it could monitor water at its intake, but he said no problems were reported and the water remains unaffected and safe to drink.

Hughes said Jim Walter Resources has a permit to pump the slurry into the underground cavern. The cavern is part of the Chevron Mining property purchased last year by Jim Walter Resources.
He said the pumping of the slurry into vacated mining areas is an approved method for disposing of the waste by-product, which is about 75 percent water and 25 percent fine rock particles left behind by coal processing.
ADEM’s report indicated a clog might have occurred during the pumping, causing the slurry to back up. Sensors on the equipment normally would have automatically shut down the system but they failed, he said.
Michael Monahan, director of corporate communications for Tampa, Fla.-based Walter Energy, which owns Jim Walter Resources, said the problem was discovered before noon Friday and the pump was immediately shut down. ADEM and the Alabama Surface Mining Commission were notified and work began to contain and clean up the spill.
Jim Walter is paying for the containment and cleanup. That effort included building berms to contain the slurry and using hay bales to absorb it.
Monahan said about a dozen vacuum trucks have been sent to the area to clean up the spill.
The pumping started over the weekend.
Hinton, a Tuscaloosa physician, said he returned to his farm on Sunday. “When we got there, there were four tanker trucks that were pumping (the slurry) at Freeman Creek,” he said.
A worker told him the crews started vacuuming there about 9 a.m. Saturday.
Hughes said there has been some discoloration of the water in North River. 
“It’s visual, but we have not seen any fish kill,” he said. “We will continue to monitor for that.” The state agency also will continue to monitor water and soil that might have been affected by the spill to make sure there are no environmental problems, he said.
Meanwhile, on Monday afternoon, Nelson Brook of Black Warrior Riverkeeper was headed to the area to independently survey the situation.
Black Warrior Riverkeeper is a nonprofit environmental organization that works to restore and protect the Black Warrior River and its tributaries.