This time the news spread faster than after the much worse spill December 22 which resulted in a Senate hearing yesterday. Anne Paine and Brad Schrade of The Tennessean broke the story of a 10,000 gallon leak of process water from the gypsum pond at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Stevenson, Alabama discovered just before dawn this morning.
TVA is now on the radar screen: I just looked it up and the story has made it to Memeoranum, with a related AP story here. USA Today was the first major paper to post story. And although it was merely a syndication of the same piece, it drew national attention, with some 86 comments in the first two and a half hours.
(Something is off with the Memeorandum permalink, however...here are the links to the complete discussion:
- Brad Johnson @ Wonk Room: Lamar Alexander: ‘Coal Is A Dirty Business’
- U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works: Boxer Statement: Oversight Hearing on the Tennessee Valley Authority
- A Siegel: Another TVA Ash Spill, with another river spill
- Sue Sturgis @ Facing South: ‘Heads need to roll at TVA’: CEO blasted for lack of answers at ash disaster hearing
- Josh Nelson@ The Seminal Sen. Lamar Alexander: Coal is a Dirty Business
- D-Day Look At That, Another Horrible Spill Of An Unregulated Coal Ash Dump!
Paine and Schrade write:
TVA official Gil Francis said today's leak at its Widows Creek coal-burning power plant in northeastern Alabama, was caused by a break in a pipe that removes water from the 147-acre gypsum pond.Paine and Schrade's piece revealed an interesting quotation from a Scottsboro, AL man merely identified as "Morgan." While TVA says the spill was just gypsum, Morgan refutes this. The story on the web has been updated, but there is still no comment on from TVA about his allegations:
The water leaked into a settling pond, where water then escaped into Widows Creek.
This is ash. It’s not gypsum. This is the same stuff on the shoreline up there at Kingston. It’s very obvious what’s happening. All the rains we’ve had, these retention ponds haven’t been inspected and are rupturing. The TVA is not being honest about this and that is very bothersome.Morgan is a member of a Blue Ridge Environmental Defense affiliated Bellefonte Efficiency Sustainability Team and provided photos he says he took today of a silvery sludge coating the shore at Bellefonte Landing, near a site for which TVA is seeking a permit to build a nuclear power plant his group opposes. That's 12 miles downstream of Widows Creek, on the Tennessee River.
I added stories on AL spill to get news out to general consumers at NewsTrust. To keep up to date, visit the link for the #coalash tweets at Twitter. You can also take a look at prior environmental release reports for the plant at Scorecard.
Mary Ann Hitt, who until recently served as Executive Director of Appalachian Voices, but has moved on to be deputy director of the Sierra Club's National Coal Campaign,
just sent me a link to an article she co-wrote the the campaign's director Bruce Nilles. "Coal Waste Spills by the Dozen?" The spill occurred around 6 a.m. and they were writing at 1:48 p.m., according, at least, to the time stamp where it's cross-posted to Kos.
While full details on the Widows Creek spill aren’t yet available, this new spill raises a simple, obvious question – what is going on here?The danger and devastation of Kingston are such that environmental groups have invited President-elect Obama to come view the spill there.
One explanation is that this is just an unfortunate coincidence, perhaps brought on by the weather. But a much more likely explanation is that smaller coal ash spills and releases – like the ones we’re learning about in Alabama and now East Tennessee are all too frequent, and the magnitude of the TVA disaster in Tennessee finally shined a light on a quiet tragedy that has been going on for decades.
In fact, there are at least 23 states where groundwater or surface water has been poisoned by coal ash. In 2007 alone there were 24 cases of water pollution linked to ash ponds in 13 states and another 43 cases where coal ash was the likely cause of pollution. Smaller spills often take place, but get little attention outside the immediately affected area.
The Kingston disaster has brought long-overdue attention to what many communities have been suffering for decades. And according to a recent study by the Environmental Integrity Project, There are over 100 sites similar to the TVA site in Kingston that pose a danger to communities across the nation.
The sad truth is that coal ash represents only a small part of the danger of coal. Normal operation of this one coal-fired power plant cuts short the lives of more than 140 people every year from regular air pollution that causes heart disease, respiratory ailments, lung cancer, and other illnesses; nationally, more than 24,000 Americans die each year from pollution from coal-fired power plants.Meanwhile, after the Alabama spill, John Atkeison (email), Director of the Climate and Clean Energy Programs for the Alliance for Affordable Energy sent me a joint news release from the and Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and the Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club. He tells me, as his group is "between versions" of its website, he doubts it will get posting, so I'm running it here. Don't have time for more, as the library is closing...
Furthermore, mountaintop removal coal mining has destroyed more than 450 mountains throughout Appalachia, including many in Tennessee, permanently destroying thousands of miles of streams and other waterways. And of course, coal is the number one U.S. source of global warming pollution. Here in Tennessee, we’re already seeing the impacts of global warming: temperatures across the state have increased one degree Fahrenheit in the last 100 years and are projected to rise at least 2 – 3 degrees over the next hundred years in Tennessee. If we don’t end our reliance on coal, heat waves and other extreme weather events are projected to increase; forests and wildlife are projected to diminish significantly; and our plentiful water resources could diminish significantly.
If our country doesn’t act quickly to phase out our use of coal and move to clean energy like wind and solar power, Tennessee will no longer be the same great place we grew up with and love.
Reports of a spill of coal ash waste at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Alabama again confirm the dangers of burning dirty coal to make electricity. Even when toxic byproducts like mercury and arsenic are removed before they are released from the smokestack, these poisons must still be disposed of. Several spills in the last three weeks demonstrate that when stored in the customary ponds at a plant site, coal ash and other residues threaten nearby residents and waterways.
The spill in Alabama is also noteworthy because the pond that is reported to be leaking contains material slated for sale as recycled construction material. Entergy recently claimed that coal waste should pose no obstacle to the conversion of its Little Gypsy generating plant to burn coal and pet coke because it asserts that it will recycle the waste as it claims to at its Westlake facility. (Note: we have been unable to confirm sales of waste material in quantities greater than 36 lbs. from that facility.)
According to John Atkeison, Climate and Clean Energy Director for the Alliance for Affordable Energy, "Making electricity from coal contributes nothing special except a grave and growing threat to the climate and poisons in the air and water."
"Our creeks, bayous and rivers and all who rely on clean water are threatened by dirty coal plants. It's time we got serious about clean energy solutions," said Aaron Viles, Campaign Director with Gulf Restoration Network, a member of Louisiana's Say Yes to Clean Energy coalition, which is challenging the spread of coal-fired power plants across the state.
According to media reports, after the TVA coal-ash spill the Alabama Department of Environmental Management inspected all the coal ash retention ponds and announced they were safe.
“This clearly demonstrates need for better regulation of coal waste and the coal plants themselves,” says Jordan Macha, Conservation Organizer for the Sierra Club. “The EPA must improve regulations to better protect our communities and the environment.”
"Coal is dirty, destructive and unsustainable," said Maylee Orr, Executive Director of Louisiana Environmental Action Network. We must phase out the use of coal while increasing the use of sustainable energy sources. Our natural resoucres, our health and our economic future depends on the choices we make today. Say yes to clean energy and no to dirty coal."
The Associated Press reported this morning that, "Millions of tons of toxic coal ash is piling up in power plant ponds in 32 states, a practice the federal government has long recognized as a risk to human health and the environment but has left unregulated. An Associated Press analysis of the most recent Energy Department data found that 156 coal-fired power plants store ash in surface ponds similar to the one that collapsed last month in Tennessee."
Recent coal waste spills include the infamous billion gallon disaster in Kingston, TN, which has been economically wrecked as well as environmentally assaulted. The TVA has also admitted to poor maintenance and releases into the Ocoee River in East Tennessee.
Clean, renewable solutions exist to our energy needs. These tragic incidents underscore the need to both prioritize energy efficiency and require that utility companies purchase a certain portion of their energy from renewable sources, instead of relying on the dirty, 19th century technology of burning coal.