Canvassing Against Coal Ash

Friday, March 15th, 2013 | Posted by Matt Grimley | No Comments

The Red, White & Water team hit the streets near Belmont, N.C., to speak with residents who live near Duke Energy's G.G. Allen Steam Station about the threats of coal ash pollution.

Last Saturday, the Red, White and Water team traveled to Belmont, N.C., to the G.G. Allen Steam Station for a day of canvassing. Walking door-to-door, we asked residents of the communities near the coal-fired power plant if they had been impacted by water pollution.

I met Archie Dixon, who was featured in the Gaston Gazette a few months ago. Dixon had complained to Duke Energy, which owns the power plant, about coal ash staining his property and getting into his drinking water. I spoke with him while he and his grandson (also named Archie, or “Lil’ Arch”) waited for a plumber for a broken pipe on their property. In his garage sat a waist-high stack of bottled water. Mr. Dixon said that he still refuses to drink his own home’s water.

The pollution near the plant happens in two ways. One is through coal ash ponds. Coal ash is the waste byproduct from burning coal and it contains contaminants such as arsenic, mercury and chromium. Because the one active coal ash pond at G.G. Allen is an unlined impoundment, these toxics can seep into groundwater. Tests near the plant have revealed exceedances in manganese, iron and nickel in the groundwater.

Effluent is the other form of pollution at G.G. Allen — the plant wastewater that discharges directly into the surface waters of nearby Lake Wylie. Under the Clean Water Act, permits are issued for each of the plant’s discharge points. These permits, however, only set limits for traditional pollutants, including oil and grease, “total suspended solids” and pH. They rarely limit pollutants such as mercury, selenium, and arsenic. And with a lack of federal guidelines, many states don’t set their own permit limits for these toxic chemicals.

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Finding Arsenic in Mountain Island Lake: Even a Sixth Grader Can Do It

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013 | Posted by Matt Grimley | No Comments

Just recently, sixth grader Anna Behnke found high levels of arsenic near her home on Mountain Island Lake, a drinking water source for hundreds of thousands in the Charlotte, N.C. metro area. The contamination — which exceeds EPA drinking water standards twenty-fold — comes from coal ash seepage at Duke Energy’s Riverbend power plant, which the utility announced it will decommission in April without a plan to deal with the coal ash ponds on site.

View full article here.

Ol’ Dan River (Despite Coal Ash) Just Keeps Rollin’

Monday, December 17th, 2012 | Posted by Matt Grimley | No Comments

Appalachian Voices recently submitted their comments to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Dan River Steam Station’s new permit to discharge coal ash.

As we all know, coal ash isn’t a pretty thing. The harmful leftovers from burning coal contain toxic contaminants like chromium and arsenic, and seep into our waterways, threatening wildlife and human health all in one fell swoop.

Current testing at the Dan River Steam Station, according to the new website southeastcoalash.org, reveals levels of antimony, arsenic, iron, manganese, sulfate and total dissolved solids above state groundwater standards. That’s unacceptable — coal ash shouldn’t interfere at all with groundwater, surface water, or the waters we drink and play in. To keep coal ash at bay, the ponds of sludge located at Dan River and other sites should be properly lined and covered.

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Answer Me These Post-Coal Questions Three

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 | Posted by Matt Grimley | 1 Comment

A new blog for YES! Magazine asks, “How do we get over coal?”

That’s the question many are asking in Appalachia, where coal’s contribution to the economy is wearing thin. Already, coal is less and less abundant and more and more expensive to extract. And because it harms the environment and destroys local communities, “How do we get over coal?” is a question for Appalachia’s future.

You’ll have to read “3 Lessons for Appalachia’s Post-Coal Economy” to find the “how” out for yourself, but the gist is this: Appalachia is full of organizations that are promoting sustainable business models. That means business should benefit local residents. That means looking out for the long run. That means creating an interconnected network of new industries that will avoid the problems of leaning on only one resource.

Check it out! Appalachia’s future depends on it.

Cape Fear: Starring Toxic Contaminants, Directed by Coal Ash

Sunday, October 28th, 2012 | Posted by Matt Grimley | No Comments

When state regulators were shown groundwater test samples taken near the Cape Fear River in eastern North Carolina with elevated levels of arsenic, thallium and chloride, the contaminants that seeped in from Lake Sutton, a coal ash pond next to the Sutton coal plant….that means the regulators made the plant clean it all up, right?

It's as simple as she says: do we want coal ash (which makes Robert de Niro in Cape Fear look like an alright guy), or do we want clean water?

Well, they didn’t. That’s why last week, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a formal complaint on behalf of four groups in North Carolina to push for more enforcement from the state Environmental Management Commission on the regulation of coal ash ponds. Kemp Burdette, the Riverkeeper with Cape Fear River Watch, said that state regulators are collecting samples that exceed NC groundwater standards, but are not forcing any of the coal plants to clean it up. “Over time, exposure to this stuff is going to make people really sick,” he said. “It’s going to have an impact on the human body.”

Coal ash, the toxic byproduct of burning coal for electricity, is typically stored in wet, often unlined ponds. These ponds then seep into neighboring groundwater. All across the nation, groundwater resources have been contaminated by coal ash. And as the Washington Post recently demonstrated, any protection of our nation’s waters from coal ash is being halted until after the election.

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Go Tell It on Mountain Island Lake

Saturday, September 29th, 2012 | Posted by Matt Grimley | No Comments

Last Sunday, the Charlotte Observer asked the question, “Are we doing enough on coal ash?” Two people stepped in to answer. The column in the negative was written by Sam Perkins, Director of Technical Programs for the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation; the column in the affirmative was written by Mitch Griggs, vice president of environmental services for Duke Energy.

Perkins says that coal ash doesn’t get the hype it deserves. It leaches into our major rivers and lakes, poisons our fish and wildlife, and was the catalyst for one of the worst environmental disasters in our nations history. The fact is that coal ash is toxic: the heavy metals it contains are associated with cancer, birth defects, and other health problems.

“A person is entitled to do as they please on their property while respecting and not impacting property that is not their own,” says Perkins, raising a valid point: why are we allowing companies to pollute our waters? Clean water is our right, and why should current environmental regulations, which are inadequate and laden with exceptions for large utilities, allow utilities to plant coal ash ponds by public areas like Mountain Island Lake?

Aerial photo of the Riverbend coal ash ponds and their proximity to Mountain Island Lake

Fortunately, the people who live and love Mountain Island Lake, are stepping in, people like Sara Behnke. She heads up the organization We Love Mountain Island Lake, and is working to inform the public about the dangers of coal to our air, water and health. Specifically, she speaks up about the Riverbend Steam Station, its coal ash ponds, and their proximity to Mountain Island Lake, which happens to serve drinking water for Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Gastonia, and Mt. Holly. All in all, about 860,000 people get their drinking water from Mountain island Lake.

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