Coal ash, the toxic waste produced by coal-fired power plants continues to plague communities across the country. A new study, conducted by Dr. Dennis Lemly, research associate professor of Biology at Wake Forest University and a leading expert on selenium poisoning, found that selenium from coal ash discharges into Sutton Lake near Wilmington, N.C., is killing more than 900,000 fish each year and causing deformities in thousands more. (more…)
Posts Tagged ‘Red White and Water’
Over the past three weeks, the Winston-Salem Journal published a series of excellent articles focusing on the significant environmental and health threat of toxic coal ash in North Carolina — specifically from Duke Energy’s coal plants.
Appalachian Voices’ Red, White, & Water team has been working this year in communities surrounding the Belews Creek coal plant near Walnut Cove, N.C., and we’ve found a mountain of stories and data pointing to Duke Energy’s poor pollution record.
The articles, researched and written by Bertrand M. Gutierrez, paint a clear picture of the air and water contamination spreading out from the Belews Creek coal ash pond. The three-part series includes:
- Environmental Concerns Persist at Belews Creek Plant
- Belews Creek Plant is one of top US greenhouse gas emitters
- Contamination lawsuits push Duke Energy to address pollution
By Sarah Kellogg
Four out of five power plants currently have no limits on the levels of heavy metals they can dump into rivers and lakes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, however, is preparing to change that, and in the process they are hearing from impacted citizens around the country.
Since June, more than 165,000 people have submitted comments to the EPA regarding its efforts to regulate the toxic wastewater produced by coal-fired power plants. In April, the agency proposed a range of options to reduce toxic discharges into waterways. The proposal constitutes the first update in three decades of the wastewater regulations under the Clean Water Act.
The proposed effluent limitation guidelines have the potential to protect more than 23,000 miles of waterways from up to 5.3 billion tons of toxic wastewater per year.
Appalachian Voices, the publisher of The Appalachian Voice, assisted North Carolina citizens living near coal-fired power plants in voicing their concerns to the EPA. Many were worried that water pollution may be impacting their drinking water and local waterways.
Carl Dale Beck, of Belmont, N.C., lives near Duke Energy’s G.G. Allen Steam Station. Coal ash waste is stored just across the street from his home, and G.G. Allen’s current wastewater permit allows the facility to discharge toxic chemicals directly into the Catawba River.
Like many in the area, Beck’s water comes from a private well, leaving him worried about potential water contamination caused by coal ash waste seeping into the groundwater. Coal ash is laden with toxicants including arsenic, mercury, lead, chromium and selenium and, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility, has “the potential to injure all of the major organ systems, damage physical health and development, and even contribute to mortality.”
Wayne Watkins, a Vietnam War veteran, lives near Duke Energy’s Belews Creek Steam Station in Pine Hall, N.C. Watkins is originally from the area, and moved back in 1994 to live in the house his grandfather built.
When he first returned, Watkins was excited to catch his own dinner from Belews Lake near his home. However, he began to worry when he started seeing fish that appeared twisted and deformed.
Watkins was not aware of the selenium poisoning that occurred from the Belews Steam Station’s discharge of toxic waste water directly into Belews Lake from 1974 to 1985. During that time, the lake became so toxic that 18 of its 20 fish species died off.
Susan Fischer lives about a quarter of a mile from the coal ash impoundment at Duke’s Asheville Steam Station. Although she is on municipal water supply, she is concerned because the current wastewater permit for the coal-fired utility allows it to discharge directly into the French Broad with few limits on what heavy metals the wastewater may contain.
“Clean water is an economic boost for us in northwest North Carolina in particular,” writes Fischer. “The French Broad River brings in a lot of income to our area, with lots of boaters and kayakers who love the river. We have worked hard to clean the river up … are we going to be made to spend more money to clean up after Duke Energy? They should be required to use the best technology to keep their waste out of the water.”
If the strongest proposed regulatory options pass, it will cost power companies less than one percent of their revenue to protect the nation’s waterways from the toxic waste water that, according to the EPA, accounts for 60 percent of all the water pollution in the country.
Debate Surrounds Duke Energy Coal Ash Settlement
By Kimber Ray
Responding to an unprecedented flood of public comments, North Carolina officials recommended several changes in September to tighten a proposed coal ash contamination settlement with Duke Energy. The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources filed a lawsuit against the utility in March concerning groundwater contamination from coal ash ponds at Duke’s Asheville Steam Electric Generating Plant in Buncombe County and Riverbend Steam Station in Gaston County.
The state initially proposed that Duke pay a $99,000 fine and investigate the source and extent of groundwater pollution. Concerned citizens and environmental groups considered the settlement insufficient given current evidence indicating the scope of water contamination.
During the 30-day public comment period that ended Aug. 14, the DENR received nearly 5,000 comments, which included calls for Duke to enact a full cleanup and receive a greater fine. Based on these comments, the state added stronger language and tighter deadlines regarding Duke’s water contamination monitoring.
Many environmental groups remain dissatisfied, criticizing the changes as minor tweaks that fail to address wastewater discharges to adjacent bodies of water. “(The state) disregarded the views of thousands of North Carolinians and has failed to require Duke Energy to clean up its pollution of Mountain Island Lake, the Charlotte region’s drinking water supply,” Frank Holleman, Southern Environmental Law Center attorney, told the Charlotte Observer.
Tests of local wells three years ago revealed levels of contamination associated with coal ash to be well above state health standards. Toxic contaminants were also found in both the French Broad River and Mountain Island Lake; Duke disputes the significance of this contamination.
In the Charlotte Observer, Duke Energy spokeswoman Erin Culbert expressed approval of the proposed settlement, stating that “regulators need the outcomes of these studies to make informed decisions about whether corrective steps are needed, and what those are.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, D.C. – A federal judge agreed with environmental and public health groups that the Environmental Protection Agency needs to set federal regulations for the safe and proper disposal of toxic coal ash. A copy of the judge’s order can be found here: http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/RCRA_NOI_Order.pdf
The groups filed the lawsuit in April 2012 challenging the EPA’s lack of federal regulations for America’s second largest industrial waste stream.
The order of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia offered little details about the timing or substance of the EPA’s rulemaking but said it will issue a Memorandum Opinion within the next 30 days with more specifics. For now, the decision marks the first step towards federally enforceable safeguards, monitoring, and protections against coal ash. In its order, the court did deny one of the environmentalists claims regarding testing procedures for coal ash contamination, but more details are needed before the groups are fully able to understand the implications.
Coal ash has already contaminated more than 200 rivers, lakes, streams and aquifers with toxic pollutants like arsenic, lead, selenium and mercury. In 2008, a spill at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tennessee, dumped one billion gallons of coal ash over 300 acres, destroying homes and poisoning rivers. That spill led to the EPA proposing in May 2010 the first federal regulations for coal ash disposal. The agency never finalized that rulemaking, leaving open the opportunity for the power generating industry and some members of Congress to push for legislation that would prevent the EPA from ever setting federal regulations.
The following statement is from the groups that filed the lawsuit: Appalachian Voices (NC); Chesapeake Climate Action Network (MD); Environmental Integrity Project (DC); Earthjustice (DC); French Broad Riverkeeper (NC); Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KY); Moapa Band of Paiutes (NV); Montana Environmental Information Center (MT); Prairie Rivers Network (IL); Sierra Club (DC); and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (eight southeast states):
“The impacts of coal ash pollution are being felt across the country. Our groups represent millions of Americans who want clean water, clean air and healthy living. We turned to the courts to force the EPA to set long overdue protections from this toxic menace. This decision marks the first step towards federally enforceable safeguards from coal ash. For decades, coal ash has been dumped into unlined and unmonitored pits, poisoning water supplies and the communities that rely on them. No one should have to live in fear of the coal ash dump in their backyard, and we hope the EPA will finally adopt regulations that protect all nearby communities.”
For information about coal ash in North Carolina, Maryland, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, Illinois, Tennessee or other southern states, as well as the implications this decision will have locally, please contact the following representatives
Sandra Diaz, Appalachian Voices, (828) 262-1500; firstname.lastname@example.org (North Carolina)
Diana Dascalu-Joffe, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, (703) 772-2472; Diana@chesapeakeclimate.org (Maryland)
Hartwell Carson, French Broad Riverkeeper, (828) 258-8737; email@example.com (North Carolina)
Mary Love, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, (502) 541-7434; firstname.lastname@example.org (Kentucky)
William Anderson, Moapa Band of Paiutes (702) 865-2787; email@example.com (Nevada)
Anne Hedges, Montana Environmental Information Center, (406) 443-2520; firstname.lastname@example.org (Montana)
Traci Barkley, Prairie Rivers Network, (217) 621-3013; email@example.com (Illinois)
Ulla Reeves, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, (828) 713-7486; firstname.lastname@example.org (Southeast)
For information about the lawsuit, federal legislation, or the status of the pending EPA regulation, please contact the following representatives:
Jennifer Duggan, Environmental Integrity Project (802) 225-6774; email@example.com
Jared Saylor, Earthjustice (202) 236-5855; firstname.lastname@example.org
Sean Sarah, Sierra Club (202) 548-4589; email@example.com
Last month, more than 150,000 people across the country submitted comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, encouraging the agency to adopt strong regulations for the toxic waste water produced by coal-burning power plants.
The comments were submitted to the EPA after the agency proposed an update of the rules under the Clean Water Act last April. The proposed steam electric effluent limitation guidelines, or ELG rules, have the potential to protect more than 23,000 miles of waterways from up to 5.3 billion tons of toxic waste water a year.
The EPA’s rules for coal waste water have not been updated since 1982, and since four out of five power plants have no limits on the levels of heavy metals they can dump into rivers and lakes, the new rules could provide hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens with peace of mind.
Here’s some good news for your Thursday — a Kentucky court ruled in favor of clean water in a landmark case that will protect the Ohio River from being further polluted by coal waste.
The ruling comes just in time for a nationwide revision to a 30-year-old U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guideline linked to the court’s decision.
Back in 2010, Louisville Gas & Electric’s Trimble County coal plant near Bedford, Ky., was permitted to store toxic waste byproducts in a wet pond that flowed into the Ohio River. That means the only barrier between a stream of heavy metals, including arsenic and selenium, and the drinking water source for millions of people was a settling pond. Essentially, the Kentucky Division of Water had given LG&E a free pass to slowly poison the river and the communities that rely on it.
You can read The Charlotte Observer article, but the upshot is that the public strongly denounced the state’s proposed “do-nothing” settlement. Almost 5,000 people submitted comments, almost all saying that the settlement doesn’t go far enough to ensuring our water is safe from coal ash waste.
So basically, the public reaction’s was….
And I can only imagine that Duke Energy’s is…
Watch this space for more to come. After all, the state has now filed an injunction for all coal-fired power plants in the state.
Out of the many things that were targeted in the North Carolina legislature, water quality took a huge hit. Not only did the state budget call for the consolidation of the Division of Water Quality and Division of Water Resources, it slashed the two agencies combined budget by more than 12 percent.
And there is the curious case of John Skvarla, the secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources who has derided his own agency as an “eco-enforcer” before he came onboard.
At a luncheon for the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank, he claimed to not have a position on climate change since he’s not a scientist, and stated that if environmentalists had their way, “we would live in lean-tos and wear loincloths.”
In the latest issue of The Advocate, we feature our intrepid Red, White & Water team, which was on the road in North Carolina over the last couple months meeting with people living near toxic coal ash ponds. The response was tremendous.
Led by our North Carolina campaign coordinator, Sandra Diaz, our team of interns and volunteers made hundreds of phone calls and knocked on dozens of doors. We teamed up with Dr. Avner Vengosh and his graduate students from Duke University to sample drinking water wells and test for the toxic chemicals associated with coal ash pollution.
People welcomed us into their homes, told us their worries about contaminated drinking water, and brought friends and neighbors to our community meetings where we shared information about coal plant pollution. And many of them are now getting involved to tell the government to enforce the laws that are meant to protect water resources and public health.
This is Appalachian Voices at our best — helping citizens get the information and tools they need to voice their concerns to elected leaders and other decision makers, making them powerful advocates for their families, their communities, and the environment.
Toward that end, we’re proud to be a co-sponsor of the first Southeast Coal Ash Summit this fall, where citizens can learn from state and federal officials, scientists, activists – and each other – about this significant threat to the South’s waters.
For our mountains and water,
We’ve written before on the Front Porch Blog about the need to dramatically strengthen federal limits for wastewater discharges from the nation’s power plants, which account for roughly two-thirds of all toxics that wind up in America’s rivers, streams and other waters. In June, the Environmental Protection Agency, finally, issued a proposal to update the 30-year-old discharge rule.
While not perfect, the proposed “effluent limit guidelines,” or ELG rule, would go a long way to reducing the discharge of toxics, including mercury, selenium, arsenic and lead, to name just a few. The EPA included several different options for electric utilities to achieve the pollution reductions.