Tag: coal ash
The Trump Administration is seeking changes in federal coal ash rules that could allow power producers to store toxic coal ash in unlined basins for up to eight more years and ease rules on temporary storage of ash for use in construction projects as filler material.
Electric utilities in Alabama are using a decreasing supply of coal. Alabama Power uses coal to produce power at locations in Jefferson, Shelby and Mobile counties, but it has inactive plants where coal ash is still stored. PowerSouth Electric Cooperative announced it would close its coal burning facility in Washington County within a year and cap-in-place its coal ash waste, and the Tennessee Valley Authority stores coal ash at its inactive coal plant in Colbert County.
The Southern Environment Law Center, with offices in Birmingham, along with EarthJustice and several other “green” organizations, is opposing the proposed rules that govern one of the nation’s largest industrial waste products. Read more.
While some electric utilities in some other southeastern U.S. states are moving millions of tons of toxic coal ash away from waterways and into lined landfills, those in Alabama are holding fast to plans to corral their toxic material in unlined pits at their present locations, an option labeled cap-in-place.
Four nonprofit environmental groups this week released a new ineractive map they say shows the potential danger of the cap-in-place strategy chosen in the state by Alabama Power Company, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. The maps, based on results of the utilities’ federally required tests of groundwater pollution near the facilities, show where arsenic, molybdenum, and other chemicals persist at levels that exceed government-set standards.
While the information has been available on the utilities’ websites, it previously has not been aggregated graphically in map form.
Alabama’s not the only state with highly polluted groundwater from coal ash basins.
In December, electric utilities in Alabama confirmed that 100 percent of regulated coal ash storage pits were within five feet of groundwater, failing the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for protecting the water supply from a myriad of cancer-causing and otherwise toxic chemicals.
Since then, one state after another has found similar results from tests mandated by the EPA. Records released of 265 power plants around the United States show arsenic, lithium and other pollutants are in the groundwater at 91 percent of the sites where combusted coal residue is stored.
The national data was to be revealed today at a noon press conference by the nonprofit watchdog group Environmental Integrity Project with assistance from Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization.
One of Alabama’s oldest coal-fired power plants will close next year. PowerSouth Energy Cooperative’s chief executive blamed the closure on “extremist environmental ideologies” and “environmental activists” in announcing that the Charles R. Lowman electrical generation plant on the Tombigbee River would be shuttered.
In an emailed newsletter on New Year’s Eve, Smith told Plant Lowman’s 150 employees that coal ash regulations, among others, are forcing the plant to end the use of coal to generate power at the Washington County facility.
“Good people will soon be looking for new jobs because of extremist environmental ideologies,” he said.
Environmentalists disagree, saying PowerSouth created its own problems by continuing to use outdated technologies and dumping coal ash near the water. Read more.
All of Alabama Power Company’s open coal ash ponds sit within five feet of an aquifer, or groundwater reservoir, in violation of federal standards, recent company filings confirm.
In the wake of the reports, environmental groups are keeping the pressure on the state’s public utilities to move toxin-laden coal ash away from waters next to power plants.
Under the 2015 Coal Combustion Residuals Rule, the locations of all coal ash basins in the nation must meet federal standards for distance from aquifers and wetlands. The basins also must conform to stability, seismic and fault restrictions.
Alabama Power Company has posted results from what is called “location restriction demonstrations” on its website for most of its facilities.
Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman Tuesday confirmed tests showed there is not a minimum five feet of separation from the company’s ash ponds to groundwater aquifers.
He added, “Alabama Power has evaluated conditions at and around our facilities and we have no indication of any effect on any source of drinking water.” Read more.
Hurricane Michael is not expected to score a direct hit on Mobile Bay, relieving concern that the coal ash basin at Alabama Power Company’s Plant Barry could be threatened, according to Cade Kistler, program director for Mobile Baykeeper, an environmental organization.
Kistler and Casi Callaway, Mobile Baykeeper’s executive director, citing a report issued by Baykeeper, earlier raised questions about a hurricane’s effect on safety of the coal ash storage basin.
Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said in an email that the company is prepared for the storm. The coal ash stored next to Plant Barry is virtually surrounded by the Mobile River 25 miles upstream from where it enters the bay. Baykeeper officials say they worry that the earthen dams holding back the river could be breached.
For more on coal ash concerns:
Is Alabama ready for an environmental disaster worse than the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and more difficult to clean up?
If Hurricane Florence had hit Alabama instead of the Carolinas, that might well have occurred, according to leaders of Mobile Baykeeper, an organization intent on protecting the ecology of the bay.
The damage they see as a risk would come from flooding or collapse of an almost 600-acre pond that stores toxic residue of coal burned for power generation at Alabama Power Company’s 60-year-old Plant Barry, 25 miles from the mouth of Mobile Bay.
Casi Callaway, the baykeeper’s executive director, and Cade Kistler, its program director, base their views on a report that Mobile Baykeeper issued earlier this year, “Mobile Baykeeper Pollution Report: Coal Ash at Alabama Power’s Plant Barry.”
The Waterkeeper Alliance and Southern Environmental Law Center were also involved in preparing the report.
Callaway and Kistler said a slow-moving, rain-heavy hurricane such as the recent Hurricane Florence could produce flooding that breaches or overflows the earthen dam protecting what they call the state’s most vulnerable coal ash storage basin. Plant Barry’s 21 tons of coal ash containing toxic levels of arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium and other pollutants is 20 times greater in volume than the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Read more.
Last month, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management levied fines of $250,000 on each of six power-generating facilities in the state for excessive groundwater contamination from their coal ash ponds.
On Friday, ADEM’s oversight board unanimously approved new rules that environmental advocacy groups say open “significant loopholes” in the regulations for disposal of coal ash.
The Southern Environmental Law Center contended in a statement that, under the new rules, ADEM could allow utilities to halt groundwater monitoring around coal ash disposal sites, although coal ash contains arsenic, lead, radium and many other toxic substances. ADEM also could decide that a utility doesn’t have to clean up the coal ash ponds in certain circumstances. And ADEM could shorten the length of time a utility must care for the ash after it is covered and closed, which now is 30 years. Read more.
Too many loopholes disguised as “flexibilities.”
That’s what conservation groups and private citizens told the Alabama Department of Environmental Management about its proposed plan to develop a state permitting program to regulate toxic coal ash waste from power plants. The agency held its sole public hearing on the issue Wednesday in Montgomery.
Alabama’s major utility and source of coal ash, Alabama Power Co., said through a spokesman that it supports the current federal rule on coal ash. Environmentalists say the federal rule is more restrictive than the state’s proposed plan. Read more.
Significant levels of toxic materials are leaching into the state’s groundwater and waterways from the millions of cubic yards of coal ash stored in massive, unlined storage ponds adjacent to six electrical power generating plants, including plants in Shelby, Jefferson and Walker counties.
On Friday, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management proposed fines of $250,000 for each case. Five of the plants are owned by Alabama Power Company.
Groundwater tests were required of utilities by the Environmental Protection Agency last year, and the utilities’ analyses of results were announced Friday. A “statistically significant increase” over background levels of pollutants was found seeping into groundwater at each plant, the analyses found. The utilities were cited by ADEM for causing or allowing the unpermitted discharge of pollutants from the power plants to “waters of the state.”
Alabama Power spokeswoman Amoi Geter said, “We have taken reasonable and responsible actions at every step of the way and do not believe the amount of the penalty is warranted.” Read more.