Why carbon pollution is a B.F.D.

Over the weekend The New Republic posted an article, “Obama’s New Rules are a B.F.D. The Ensuing Political Fight May Be Even Bigger” about carbon pollution rules (Greenhouse Gas or GHG) the Environmental Protection Agency will release On June 2 next week. These rules will be directed toward existing sources of carbon pollution, the majority of which are coal-fired power plants.

Recognizing and acting on carbon pollution has been a long time coming in the United States. We’re the last car on the train of developed countries acknowledging and acting upon the mounds of scientific and economic data pointing to the damage that has been done, and continues to grow, by unfettered coal fueled carbon pollution.

There’s another story to tell about coal plants, but it isn’t be told often enough, or loudly enough. Why?

Coal plants aren’t found in gated communities, middle class neighborhoods, or private schools campuses. Coal plants aren’t problems for elected officials or businesses unless the issue is air quality or water resources, or until those who bear the weight of coal show up at government or shareholder meetings demanding action. Coal plants are stashed away in communities of color, low income, low education levels, poor health status, and rural America.

Facing South said this about who we are:

  • Number of Americans who live within three miles of a coal-fired power plant, which coal-plants-wastetypically stores toxic coal ash waste in unlined pits that aren’t currently subject to federal oversight: 6 million
  • Their average per capita income: $18,400, average per capita income for U.S. residents overall: $21,587
  • Percent of people living within three miles of a coal plant who are people of color: 39
  • Number of the nation’s 378 coal-fired power plants that received an “F” in a 2012 report because they’re responsible for a disproportionate amount of pollution in low-income and minority communities: 75
  • Average per capita income of the 4 million people who live within three miles of those failing coal plants: $17,500, percent who are people of color: 53
  • Average per-capita income of people living within three miles of Duke Energy’s Dan
    photo from Catawba Riverkeeper
    photo from Catawba Riverkeeper

    Plant near Eden, N.C., where a Feb. 2 coal ash spill has contaminated the waterway  for 80 miles downstream: $15,772

  • Percent of the residents of Danville, Va., a community downstream of the spill that draws its drinking water from the Dan, who are people of color: 53.3
  • Risk of cancer for people living within a mile of unlined coal ash pits: 1 in 50
  • Number of times that exceeds what the Environmental Protection Agency considers an acceptable risk: 2,000
  • Number of times more likely it is for someone living near a coal ash pit to develop cancer than someone who smokes a pack of cigarettes per day: 9

Coal plant communities didn’t choose to be the dumping ground for America’s dirtiest energy source.

The renewable energy revolution and putting the brakes on climate change won’t be led by industry and government alone.

We’ve had enough. And we’re making it a B.F.D.

 

 

 

Where will the next one happen?

The Charlotte Observer reports that Duke Energy notified the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Sunday afternoon that one of their coal ash ponds at the Dan River Power Station was spilling coal ash waste and toxin contaminated water into the Dan River. The company’s early estimate was that 82,000 TONS of toxic coal ash waste and up to 27 MILLION gallons of water had poured into the river supplying municipal drinking water systems downstream.

photo Catawba Riverkeeper
photo Catawba Riverkeeper

Duke Energy officials waited until 4:03 on Monday afternoon to inform the public.

The Observer quotes power company officials saying on Tuesday that it was “definitely unexpected” that a reinforced concrete pipe would break.

Except Duke Energy didn’t use concrete pipes for two thirds of the length of the pipe where the leak continues to spill into the Dan River. The company thought it had used concrete pipes in the 1960s when they built the coal ash ponds, but now they know that only one-third of the length of the pipe work is concrete.

Ooops.

photo by  Appalachian Voices
photo by Appalachian Voices

Late yesterday Appalachian Voices reported that coal ash has reached the intake point at the Danville water works. Virginia Beach authorities have turned off the pumps at Lake Gaston until the full impact of the spill is determined.

The water problems aren’t over for West Virginians either. The News Observer reports that Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer for Kanawha and Putnam counties  urges parents with children ages three and younger, as well as people with weakened immune systems, to avoid drinking the water. Yesterday two schools had to close when students and teachers were overwhelmed with the licorice fumes associated with the coal processing chemical that contaminated water resources last month.

There are plenty of potential coal ash spills waiting to happen. Today’s Washington Post notes that there are 207 plant sites in 37 states where coal ash contamination has violated federal air and water health standards. Georgia could be next.

Georgia is riddled with coal plants and the toxic waste they produce. Even as Georgia Power begins to shutter coal units, the coal ash remains. Middle Georgia’s Plant Branch and Plant Scherer as ranked as Significant for hazards. After the doors are locked at Plant Branch next April, the tons of coal ash and toxic-soaked water will still be there in retention ponds, right there on the banks of Lake Sinclair that feeds the Oconee River.

How can this be? Easy.

IN HARM’S WAY: Lack of Federal Coal Ash Regulations Endangers Americans and Their Environment, a report by the Environmental Integrity Project includes this on coal ash waste regulations and monitoring, “Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia either require no monitoring of their numerous ash ponds or monitoring only after the ponds have been closed, a rare event as most ponds are operated perpetually as ‘storage’ sites. Monitoring data from state files in Georgia were so minimal that no assessment of impacts could be made.”

Power companies in Georgia are allowed to self-monitor their coal waste storage sites. Not the state agency that issued their permits, not river keepers, not municipal agencies. The power companies get to make the waste and monitor the safety of its storage.

We’ve allowed corporations, lobbyists, and legislators to put us at risk for decades and we can’t afford any longer to think “it won’t happen to us”.  The “us” is everyone in the Charleston, West Virginia, Danville, and now Virginia Beach.

And the time to speak up is now.