Wednesday, March 7, 2018

I reported, NO ONE listened!

This story by Jason Morton that ran in 2009 after a flight with SouthWings. It was reported to ADEM, EPA and local environmental groups. No one took action. I was ignored in 2009. Today, the same site is in the exact same condition. Thank goodness someone is paying attention now. I seriously hope it isn't too little too late.

I found this article in the Tuscaloosa News archives and decided to re-post it since Alabama Power Co was just fined 1.25 million for what they have been doing and getting away with for years!

Environmentalist spots possible coal ash violations. 

McDuffie Island coal terminal. Coal dust floating out to sea.
In the past fiscal year, 18.5 million tons of coal passed through the Alabama Port Authority's McDuffie Island in Mobile Bay. This photo taken by environmentalist John Wathen shows a black swath around the island's southeastern point that could be coal ash. While the state Port Authority hasn't commented on the photo, Davina Marraccini, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said no one has a permit to dump coal on the ocean floor and that "someone really ought to file a report."
Coal ash in the Emory River
12/29/08 Photo by John Wathen, Flight by SouthWings
When tons of coal ash -- the toxic by-product that comes with burning coal for energy -- washed across acres of rural Tennessee in December, Tuscaloosa environmental advocate John L. Wathen went to see the devastation first-hand.
Appalled at what he found, Wathen last month began looking for danger signs at coal-fired power plants in Alabama to see if a similar disaster could occur. From the air, Wathen spotted conditions at two Alabama Power Co. plants that has him asking questions.
But it wasn't just the operations of a private corporation that he found upsetting.
Wathen suspects that the state of Alabama was allowing its own form of environmental harm -- not to its own lakes, rivers or streams, but to the Gulf of Mexico.
Coal dust flowing out from McDuffie Island coal terminal. 02/12/09

"We recognize that coal, America's most abundant energy resource, plays a critical role in meeting our country's growing need for affordable and reliable electricity," the coalition's Web site said. "Our goal is to advance the development and deployment of advanced clean coal technologies that will produce electricity with near-zero emissions."
Coal dust flowing out from McDuffie Island coal terminal. 02/12/09
In Alabama, that means reducing the estimated 37 million pounds of toxins produced by fossil fuel-based power plants in 2006, the most recent year that complete data was available, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Of these toxins, 7.3 million pounds came from the Greene County Electric Generating Plant in Forkland and the James M. Barry Electric Generating Plant in the town of Bucks in Mobile County, the EPA said.

Green Co Steam Plant blackwater discharge 02/29/09
At both of these plants owned by Alabama Power Co. -- a de facto member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity through its parent corporation, Southern Co. -- Wathen found what he believes may be potential violations and hazards emanating from the plants' ash ponds.
Green Co Steam Plant blackwater discharge 02/29/09
Coal ash is the residue left over from burning coal. Coal plants scrub the ash off the inside of smokestacks, then deposit it into ponds of water, on the theory that the ash and its toxins -- mercury, arsenic, selenium, among others -- will settle to the bottom of the pond and thus cease to be an environmental hazard.
"Mercury is one of the more serious toxins that affects humans and it's found in all coal at some levels," Wathen said. "It's going to be long-term. This ash situation is just now coming to light."
According to the EPA, both the Greene County and Barry steam plants have been in some form of non-compliance with the Clean Air Act in each of the past three years, and both have violated their respective discharge permits at least once.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management does not have a long list of rules pertaining to coal ash at the nine facilities in the state that produce it.
Essentially, all the agency says is that none of the coal ash is allowed to flow freely out of the pond.
"We closely monitor the volume of material [in] the ponds," said ADEM spokesman Jerome Hand.
Coal ash concerns

At the Greene County site, Wathen took aerial photos that show what appears to be the mixing of the plant's ash pond with a wetland on the other side of the pond's earthen dam.
"There's not a lot of difference, from the look of it, from that material in that ash pit and the material in that wetland," Wathen said. "That is not a healthy wetland. This stuff is perking through that dam."

While no scientific studies have yet been conducted on Wathen's findings, he filed a formal complaint with ADEM based on what he saw in Mobile County.

In that county, a large, dark finger of material curled into the Mobile River from the underside of a thin peninsula. On the other side of that peninsula is the Barry Steam Plant's ash pit.
"As you can see from that black water coming in from some of my photos, they're already discharging [into the river]," Wathen said. "Any failure of the ash pond dam is going to directly impact the Mobile River and all the fisheries below."
Alabama Power spokesman Pat Wylie said it was unclear what Wathen captured in his photos. Wylie said he doubted there was any danger because the company had performed reviews of all its coal ash pits following the Tennessee disaster.
Wylie said the dark spots on Wathen's images could be anything, including areas of deeper water that, when viewed from the air, appear dark.
Still, an Alabama Power Co. investigator is looking into the dark trails curling into the Mobile River.
Wylie said incidents like the coal ash pond break in Tennessee have caused all power companies to re-examine their own practices. One change already implemented is an annual inspection of the ash pits, instead of the two-year timetable the power company previously used.
"And there's almost a daily look from the people who work on the site," Wylie said.
"Whenever something like that happens, a prudent business is going to look at their operations ...," Wylie said. "There are regulations that we have to adhere to in order to make sure we're not just wantonly harming the environment.
"It'd be hard to believe something negative is seeping into the water."
Gulf work
In the last fiscal year, 18.5 million tons of coal passed through the Alabama Port Authority's McDuffie Island in Mobile Bay.
The 556-acre island has been the entry and exit point for coal in Alabama since the mid-1970s, said port authority spokeswoman Judith Adams.
But exactly how long coal dust and bits of the carbon rock have been accumulating on the ocean floor is unknown.
While Wathen's aerial tour of Alabama coal facilities revealed a black swath around the island's southeastern point, Adams did not return a call seeking comment about those pictures.
"They have some of the filthiest stuff in the world dumped inside this bay," Wathen said.
Davina Marraccini, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said no reports of illegal dumping had been filed for that part of the ocean.
She also said no one had permission to be dumping coal on the ocean floor either.
"Anything discharged into ocean waters requires a permit ..." Marraccini said. "Someone really ought to file a report."
Two sides, one rock
Advocates of coal point to its benefits, including affordability, widespread use and developing technology that they say makes it cleaner and safer to burn.
According to the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations, coal mining also employed more than 1,300 people in Tuscaloosa County in fiscal 2007.
The largest coal-based employer in the county is Jim Walter Resources, which operates underground mines in Brookwood and others across the state.
Dennis Hall, spokesman for the company, estimated that almost 1,900 people work for Jim Walter Resources.
"Our coal is primarily used in the steel-making process," Hall said. "So anything made from steel owes its life to coal. Also, over half of all electricity in the United States is generated from coal. There are thousands of products made from by-
products of coal."
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity emphasizes that technological advances have been made to reduce the amount of toxins the coal-burning process leaves in the atmosphere.
"The use of coal for electricity generation has more than tripled since 1970, while criteria emissions controlled under the federal Clean Air Act have been reduced by nearly 50 percent," the coalition's Web site said. "The industry is committed to reducing emissions even further -- including the eventual widespread capture and storage of man-made greenhouse gas emissions."
Critics of coal, however, highlight the liabilities, including the challenge of keeping toxins out of the air, ground and water of communities.
That threat became a reality on Dec. 22, when 5.4 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash, enough ash to cover 3,000 acres a foot deep, spilled from a retention pond at the Kingston Fossil Plant near Harriman, Tenn.
Photo by John Wathen, Flight by SouthWings
The devastation flowed at least 25 miles downstream, and arsenic levels in nearby waters spiked to more than 100 times the federally regulated amount.
Critics are becoming ever more vocal.
On the Web site of the Reality campaign, which released a new anti-coal commercial directed by directors Joel and Ethan Coen, viewers are hit with short, quick quotes -- many from the EPA -- pointing out coal's harm on the country and world.
The Waterkeeper Organization, an environmental advocacy group, launched, a Web site designed to expose what organizers call "the dirty lie" that is "clean coal."
"The coal industry and their lobbyists want you to believe coal is clean," is the first sentence on the Web site. "The truth is that coal pollutes our water, devastates our communities, forests and mountains, kills wildlife and contributes to climate change."
Wathen was in New York City for the Web site's launch party and said he was happy to see attention being paid to the issue.
He said he knows it will be impossible to completely cease using coal, but he said the country must be responsible about it.
"We have to have coal until we can convert to other energy sources," Wathen said. "So while we're waiting ... we need to find cleaner and better ways of taking care of the waste, getting it out of the ground and transporting it."
Reach Jason Morton at or 205-722-0200.

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