The Front Porch Blog, with Updates from AppalachiaThe Front Porch Blog, with Updates from Appalachia


A heckofa job

Thursday, January 8th, 2009 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

By Bill Kovarik

They might as well have said “Tommie, you’re doing a heckofa job” down there in Tennessee cleaning up that nasty coal ash spill.

Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and other senators at the US Senate environment committee looking into the TVA disaster took serious pains to tell Tom Kilgore what a “nice man” he was.

View the hearing on the website

The effusive praise in the hearing Thursday morning Jan. 8 went beyond the standard courtesies afforded witnesses in Senate hearings, perhaps because it was clear that the TVA’s CEO was a relic of a bygone age who would need to be handled with respect and care as he was ushered out the door.

In fact, before he even left the Senate hearing room, Kilgore’s notion that wind energy costs 70 cents per kilowatt hour was flashing by “Twitter” to environmental networks across the country – along with a rebuttal by the American Wind Energy Association. Four to eight cents is the US Department of Energy figure, AWEA noted.

New technology isn’t the only point on which Kilgore is sadly out of touch. By refusing to take responsibility – acknowledging TVA’s role obliquely with “this is not a proud moment” — Kilgore could not have been more obtuse.

In one memorable exchange, Boxer asked about leaving the ash in place with grass seed over it instead of cleaning up the embayment behind Swan Pond Road.

Boxer – You don’t have plans to do this?

Kilgore – We don’t have plans not to.

Boxer – That’s not an answer. That’s not cleanup, just leaving that stuff there. People will never feel safe there. People are smart, they know what’s in it, and they’re going to send grandkids out to play in it? I don’t think so… I think there are a lot of questions about your decision making …

Stephen Smith, Executive Director Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said that among the many emotions that had gripped the Tennessee Valley in the wake of the disaster, including “fear, frustration and anger,” the most significant of all was betrayal. “This was not a natural disaster,” he said. “This was a man made disaster.“

Perhaps the most interesting moment was Senator James Inhofe’s (R-OK) opening statement, where he warned that “extremist groups” might exploit this “incident” so they can “eradicate the use of coal in this country.” We can only wonder if Inhofe believes that these might be the same “extremists” who he has previously accused of hoaxing the nation about climate change.

The lasting impression is one of chaos. None of the numbers about toxins in the spill – such as how many hundred thousand pounds of arsenic — were remotely solid or acknowledged as accurate, either on the Senate side or among the witnesses.

And despite repeated comparisons to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, a comparison to Three Mile Island seems more apropos. The Exxon Valdez was never seen as the end of the oil industry. This TVA disaster is starting to look like just that for new coal fired power plants, just as Three Mile Island was the end of nuclear power construction.

Maybe the extremists won’t prove to be so extreme after all.

How Dangerous is coal fly ash?

Friday, December 26th, 2008 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

Coal fly ash contains many toxic, carcinogenic and poisonous substances that are particularly dangerous in aquatic ecosystems.
Most fly ash and coal combustion residue (CCR) is sent to landfills or abandoned mines. In some cases, such as the TVA Kingston plant, it is kept on site.
( Althought there are “green” or “beneficial” uses for coal fly ash, these involve mixing it with cement, stabilizing it and keeping it away from groundwater. Only about 43 percent of coal fly ash nationwide is stabilized in this way. )
Scientists have long known that big trouble can result when coal fly ash comes in contact with aquatic ecosystems or ground water tables.
“The presence of high contaminant levels in many coal combustion residue leachates may create human health and ecological concerns,” the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council said in a 2006 report. Coal combustion residues are about sixty percent fine aluminum silicate glass compounds and most of the rest are quartz, lime, magnesium, iron and other compounds, according to the NAS study. Other constituents of CCR can be very dangerous. Fly ash contains many Class 1 (proven) carcinogens. For example, fly ash contains 43 parts per million of arsenic, a known carcinogen.
Arsenic, thallium, antimony, molybenum, lead and cadmium — in that order — pose the largest cancer risks, EPA said in a 2007 risk assessment report.

Tennessee Green finds residents worried, uninformed

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

(Photo courtesy Tennessee Green). Residents in the Harriman TN area near the Kingston power plant are not very well informed, Tennessee Green says. “It would be nice to find out something,” the web site quoted one resident as saying.

Citizen Journalists Encouraged to Report on TVA disaster

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

Citizen journalists are encouraged to register at this blog site and describe their experiences with the TVA disaster. (Photos by Tennessee Green).
Just follow the simple registration procedures and write text and reference photos and videos.
Please write with questions:
Thanks — Bill Kovarik

Injury reported as TVA waits for water test results

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

At least one man may have been hospitalized from drinking tained water along the Clinch and Tennessee Rivers near Watts Bar, witnesses said.

“We met a man who had been vomiting for the past 12 hours after drinking a couple of pots of coffee made from the tainted water,” said Matt Landon of United Mountain Defense, a Knoxville TN based environmental organization. “We advised him to go to the hospital.”

Members of United Mountain Defense also said TVA had been advising residents to boil water. This procedure would only concentrate heavy metals, experts noted. The UMD team traveled Tuesday to Harriman, TN to learn more first hand about the impacts of the coal ash pond failure.

Meanwhile, TVA waited for water test results before deciding what to do about the massive coal fly ash spill, creeping towards the confluence of the Clinch and Tennessee Rivers near Kingston, TN. According to a New York Times story this morning, environmental officials are struggling to “assess the damage in hopes that water supplies were not harmed by heavy metals like lead, mercury and arsenic.”

Members of United Mountain Defense said TVA had been advising residents to boil water. This procedure would only concentrate heavy metals, experts noted. The UMD team traveled Tuesday to Harriman, TN to learn more first hand about the impacts of the coal ash pond failure. Matt Landon of UMD shared this report:

“We traveled on Swan Pond Rd visiting local residents and passing out information about the chemicals that may be present in the drinking water.

Begining at 3pm Dec 23, 2008 TVA officials began to visit all of the houses just prior to our visit advising residents to boil their drinking water before consuming it for the next 5 days.

Unfortunately TVA did not inform anyone about the reasons for needing to boil the water and any chemicals that may be present in their water. The city of Harriman was working 24 hours a day to install a new water pipe in order to provide these residents with cleaner water. Their current water source was a large spring which may have been contaminated by the spill.

We also met a man who had been vomitting for the past 12 hours after drinking a couple of pots of coffee made from the tainted water. We advised him to go to the hospital.

The media has been reporting that affected citizens were being housed in a local motel, but we met many citizens who had spent the last two nights without electricity or gas heat in 27 F weather. A source shared information that TVA knew that the coal ash dam had been leaking for months now. We visited approximately 40 households many of which had not recieved any information other than what they could figure out from the minute long television segments or an isolated phone call from the water or gas utility.

TVA police were limiting access to Swan Pond Rd as utility crews were actively working on the roadway. ”

Other news reports today included:

CNN: Tennessee Spill Runs over Homes and Water

WBIR TV Knoxville: Officials test sludge

Knoxville Sentinel: Mudslide closes Emory River

Associated Press — Dike bursts in Tennessee

TVA responses to coal waste spill questions

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

Wednesday Dec. 24 —
Q — We understand residents are being told to boil water before drinking. This is not going to protect people from heavy metals, arsenic and other contaminants found in fly ash.
A– It is my understanding that there are a limited number of residents that the local water utility has advised to boil water. These homes were provided water from a spring via a gravity feed supply from a location in the hills well above the Kingston plant. The ash-slide damaged that gravity fed line and a temporary connection has been installed from another public water supply source that was not affected by the ash-slide. — Terry Johnson, TVA Communications

Tuesday Dec. 23 —

Q– What kind of drinking water monitoring is taking place? Where and how frequently?
A — TVA has 11 sampling locations in the river. Analysis shows that all materials – heavy metals, mercury, arsenic, Etc. are below drinking water threshold limits at the water plant.
Q — Will advisories go out concerning drinking water?
A — If necessary, yes, but presently they are not.
Q — What will TVA advise people downstream from this spill to do about drinking water?
A — TVA will work with the city of Kingston and local emergency management officials if notifications about drinking water are necessary.,
Q — The size of this spill — 524.9 million gallons is the number we worked out from your 2.6 million cubic yards — Is this accurate?
A — No, this was not a liquid spill. The 2.6 million cubic yards is the amount of ash that was in the dry cell when the event occurred. We cannot yet say exactly how much was released. Much of it still remains on land and is not in the water.
Q — As you know, the Inez, KY spill of Oct 11, 2000 was 300 million gallons and was called the largest environmental disaster east of the Mississippi.
A — They are very different. We have seen no fish kills, but we will continue to monitor to make Sure we know the environmental impacts of the ash slide.
(NOTE: News videos of fish kills have been posted. See below)
Q — In what ways are the two spills similar, and how are they different? Is this now the largest environmental disaster east of the Mississippi?
A — We can’t tell you at this point any comparisons – we can say that we are working hard to contain the ash, remove it and temporarily store it until we determine where it can be disposed of.
Q — Thank you

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Fly ash floods Tennessee River

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

A six-foot wall of coal fly ash mud broke loose from an earthen dam early Monday morning near Harriman, TN, washing out a road, isolating a dozen homes and posing a possible threat to drinking water downstream from Watts Bar dam on the Tennessee River. No injuries have been officially reported, although environmental observers said that contaminated drinking water caused some illnesss.

The disaster involved 5.4 million cubic yards of dry material, or an estimated one billion gallons of wet coal fly ash sludge. The material flowed from facilities at the 1.7 gigawatt Kingston Steam Plant into the Emery River, then into the lake at Watt’s Bar dam on the Tennessee River. The earthen dam that broke contained three cells totaling 300 acres being maintained by the TVA as part of the Kingston facility. All three broke, contrary to early reports that only one broke through.

As of Sunday Dec. 28, TVA and municipal water authorities had not closed down drinking water intakes on the river. Water monitoring reports showed elevated levels of toxic substances but TVA officials said that these would be filtered out before reaching drinking water systems.

The spill is the largest on record, and compares to a 300 million gallon coal slurry sludge spill on Oct. 11, 2000 at Inez, Martin County, Kentucky and to the 11 million gallon oil spill from the Exxon Valdez on March 24, 1989.

Heavy rains and freezing conditions contributed to the spill, but neighbors told the Knoxville News that TVA had been struggling with “baby blowouts” for years.

Coal fly ash contains large amount of proven Class One human carcinogens such as arsenic and beryllium and heavy metals such as lead and mercury.

Ironically, the spill came on the same day that 39 environmental groups were urging president-elect Barack Obama to reject a pending federal rule to make it easier to dump fly ash into abandoned mines.

As Appalachian Voice has reported previously, every year, 120 million tons of fly ash form the residue of 1.1 billion tons of coal burned for electricity. Coal waste is the second largest waste stream in America after municipal solid waste. A train with cars full of a year’s fly ash production would stretch 9,600 miles.

Fly ash is often been used to make grout, asphalt, Portland cement, roofing tiles and filler for other products, but only about 43 percent is stabilized that way, according to the American Coal Ash Association.

Fly ash disposal has become increasingly controversial over the years. Studies from the 1980s said that fly ash was harmless, but more recent scientific and EPA assessments have sounded alarms.

Environmental groups have been alarmed at the groundwater contamination by heavy metals from coal fly ash. Incidents have taken place all over the country where old fly ash deposits have broken loose, contaminating neighborhoods, threatening health and reducing property values. Fish and other species die quickly when directly exposed to fly ash, and those exposed indirectly accumulate heavy metals in their bodies, harming the ecosystem and posing a serious health risk to anglers.

Undeterred, the coal and utility industries keep insisting that fly ash is harmless. Yet in 2003, EPA identified over 70 sites nationwide where fly ash and similar coal power plant waste has contaminated surface and groundwater. The next year, 130 environmental groups petitioned the federal government to stop allowing fly ash to be dumped where it could come into contact with drinking water supplies.

At the time, EPA put off a decision on new regulations for 18 months. Five years later, regulations have yet to be written, although two years ago, a National Science Foundation report urged EPA to begin regulation.

In the summer of 2007, the EPA released a national risk assessment on coal fly ash disposal. One of the most important factors involved in risk was whether runoff could carry contaminants away from the site and into groundwater.

The cancer risk from arsenic is one of the biggest issues with fly ash. People drinking groundwater contaminated by a landfill that did not use a plastic liner had a 10,000 times greater than allowable risk of cancer, the EPA said. Other risks include high levels of mercury, lead and other heavy metal contaminants.
Communities in Indiana, Pennsylvania and Maryland have already experienced severe fly ash problems. Water supplies had to be shut down in 2004 in the town of Pines, Indiana, and families were provided with bottled water after molybdenum showed up the town’s drinking water.

In September of 2007, the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force and EarthJustice released a report on the use of coal fly ash to fill in Pennsylvania mines. In 10 of 15 mines examined across the state, groundwater and streams near areas where coal ash, or coal combustion waste had high levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and selenium and other pollutants above safe standards.

Also in 2007, residents of Giles County, VA filed a lawsuit over coal fly ash landfills being placed by American Electric Power adjacent to the New River. They said that landfills posed a danger to people and recreational uses of the river.

In November 2008, residents of Gambrills, Maryland, settled a class action lawsuit against a power company for $45 million after water supplies were contaminated by a fly ash landfill.


EPA documents on fly ash are available here and also here:

In 2006, the United States produced nearly 125 million tons of “Coal Combustion Products” (CCPs), including fly ash,flue gas desulfurization (FGD) materials, bottom ash, boiler slag, and other power plant byproducts. While 43 percent were recycled and stabilized, often in concrete, nearly 70 million tons were landfilled or held in ponds like the ones along a Tennessee River tributary at Kingston. See

There is currently an enormous regulatory vacuum on fly ash disposal when the “beneficial uses” (like embedding in concrete) are not employed.

A National Academy of Sciences report this year noted the regulatory vacuum and also said it would be safe to fill abandoned mines with coal fly ash.

Not so, said the Clean Air Task Force and EarthJustice, which have been pushing for more regulations: “The public has been told for decades that these coal wastes are not hazardous — it’s time to end that fraud.”

A House Natural Resources subcommittee held a hearing on this on June 10 of this year:

In 2007, EPA performed a coal fly ash risk assessment (PDF)

McCain supports end to Mountaintop Removal Mining

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

Protesters Demand Clean Energy

Monday, September 15th, 2008 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

Protesters From Across the Country Join Wise County VA Residents to Oppose Power Plant’s Impact on Environment and Health, and to Demand a Clean Energy Future

Wise County, VA — At 6:00am this morning around 50 peaceful protesters entered the construction site of Dominion Virginia’s (NYSE: D) Wise County coal-fired power plant. Almost twenty protesters locked their bodies to eight large steel drums, two of which have operational solar panels affixed to the top that illuminated a banner reading “renewable jobs to renew Appalachia.” In addition to those locked to the construction site, over 25 protesters from across the country convened in front of the plant singing and holding a 10’x30’ banner, which said “we demand a clean energy future.”

In this event—the first protest at Dominion’s $1.8 billion new coal-fired power plant—local Wise County residents have joined hands with those fighting mountaintop removal coal and climate change from Tennessee to California. Those young and old, from cities and from rural communities have come together because the construction of this 585-megawatt power plant not only poses a massive risk to the health of Appalachians, but it also stands in stark opposition to the national move to a clean energy economy.

“Coal is in our blood but we’re realizing it’s also in our lungs and in our drinking water,” said Hannah Morgan, Wise County landowner and one of those locked to the construction site. “We are here because now is the time to take greater action as individuals, a community, and a country to create a sustainable future and stop the destruction of our homeplace.”

“I’m here from Coal River, WV to support my fellow Appalachians in our shared struggle to end coal industry abuses,” said Bo Webb, resident of Coal River, WV and member of Coal River Mountain Watch. “We are not going to continue to stand idly by and watch our children be robbed of their right to clean air and clean water. This is no longer an Appalachian problem, it’s an American problem.”

With very few jobs going to local residents for construction or long-term plant operation and without any means to capture its carbon dioxide pollution, the Dominion plant represents a remarkably bad deal for Virginia. “With all the billions of dollars that have rolled out of Appalachia in the last 5 years, it should look like Dubai but instead it looks like Guatemala,” said Jane Branham, Wise County resident and nurse. “My dad was a coal miner. As he says, ‘it’s not the same as it used to be—there’s no profit in coal for the people here anymore there’s only devastation.’”

This event comes on the heels of Dominion’s groundbreaking ceremony for the plant on August 14 and continues almost two years of opposition to the project. Nearly 45,000 Virginians have signed a petition against the construction of the plant, three lawsuits were recently filed challenging the state’s approval of the plant as its permits fail to adequately control emissions of hazardous toxins, such as mercury, which can cause severe neurological deficits in developing fetuses and young children.

“Embracing clean energy is not a sacrifice, it is an opportunity,” said Rebecca Tarbotton of Rainforest Action Network, a California group that is pressuring Bank of America and Citi, leading financiers of Dominion, to stop funding coal plants and to start investing in clean energy. “This Dominion protest is part of a rapidly growing movement of people across the country who are willing to put their bodies on the line to ensure a clean energy future.”

Opponents to the plant believe Virginia should be leading the country in renewable energy; Virginia’s skilled labor force could be at the forefront of the burgeoning green jobs movement. Leaving Appalachia’s mountains intact could support a 2,000 megawatt wind farm, almost four times the amount of energy generated by this plant.

The plant, if constructed, will process largely mountain top removal coal, creating an even bigger incentive for the destructive practice that decimates historic mountains and contaminates drinking water. Wise County has already had 25% of its historic mountain ranges destroyed forever to mountaintop removal mining.

For more information or for photos and b-roll, please contact Nell Greenberg, 276-337-3198.

Thanks, Scott Parkin
Rainforest Action Network
Organizer, Global Finance Campaign

221 Pine St #500
San Francisco, CA 94104 USA
415-659-0524 office
415-398-2732 fax
415-235-0596 cell

Utilities turn from coal to gas – NYT

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

“A wave of public opposition to coal-burning plants, motivated partly by broad fears about global warming and partly by local aesthetic concerns, is making their construction more difficult. On Monday, Wall Street weighed in: Three big investment banks announced that in deciding whether to make loans for new coal plants, they would calculate the projects’ financial viability, taking into account potential future charges for carbon dioxide emissions.”
Story by Matthew Wald

Coal mogul as All-American Villian ?

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

Blankenship “has pioneered ‘mountaintop removal’, or MTR. This means blowing off mountain tops with the equivalent of 4,636 ‘bunker buster’ bombs exploding daily, exposing coal seams which are then scooped up by the biggest diggers, cranes and trucks ever built.

Quite apart from its effect on climate change, the result is a moonscape. Whole villages have disappeared. The mountain tops are dumped in the rivers, killing them too. So far, half a million acres have been destroyed as Blankenship (left) does his best to consign to history the official state slogan – Wild Wonderful West Virginia.

The Lost bears of Shumate Hollow

Friday, January 11th, 2008 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

In this video, Ed Wiley tells the story of how a bear den was bulldozed at an MTR mining site called Shumate Hollow, above the Marsh Fork elementary school. There is even a video clip of a bear running across the site.

Its just another sad indication of the suffering and horror inflicted by Mountaintop Removal Mining.



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