Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Coal's dirty secret

Posted By on Wed, May 26, 2010 at 10:57 AM

The Institute for Southern Studies is lifting the veil on coal ash this week on their Facing South blog. Read on as investigative journalist Sue Sturgis takes you neck deep into one of the coal industry's dirtiest secrets.

Today, the topic is the year and a half old disaster in Tennessee. Here's a snippet:

Shortly before 1 a.m. on Dec. 22, 2008, a dike holding back an 84-acre pond of wet coal ash at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston plant near Harriman, Tenn. ruptured and collapsed following weeks of heavy rains. A billion gallons of muddy, gray coal ash loaded with arsenic, lead and other contaminants poured across the nearby Emory River to the neighborhood along Swan Pond Road.

The toxic tidal wave hit suddenly, taking sleeping residents by surprise. It damaged a total of 42 homes, pushing one house completely off its foundation and rendering three others uninhabitable. It tore down trees, pushed boats off docks, washed out a road and a railway, ruptured a major gas line, broke a water main, and ripped down power lines. No people died in the disaster, though a dog that had been tied up in the yard of one house was buried by the coal ash and couldn't be rescued in time.

Some residents didn't realize what had happened until after dawn, when they awoke to a landscape that one survivor described as looking like "a movie scene on the ugliest planet imaginable." The sludge covered almost half a square mile of once-beautiful riverfront land, reaching six feet deep in places. A popular local fishing cove was filled with coal ash, the massive chunks sticking up 20 feet in the air like dirty icebergs.

Read on here.

On Monday, Sturgis explained how the Tennessee disaster continues to affect one family ... and what they, and all of us, can do to prevent future coal ash disasters:

Coal ash isn't receiving as much attention nowadays. But a six-month investigation by Facing South finds that it poses a growing threat to public health and the environment -- even as coal ash remains unregulated by the federal government due in large part to political pressure from energy companies.

But the days of coal ash escaping the scrutiny of federal regulators are numbered. Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- after months of delay due to maneuvering among the EPA, White House Office of Management and Budget, and the politically powerful electric utility industry -- took the unusual step of releasing two different proposals for how to regulate coal ash.

EPA is now asking the public to weigh in on the two options during a 90-day comment period that will begin once the proposed rules are published in the Federal Register. (For a pre-publication version of the rules, click here.) As EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said when the regulatory options were rolled out, "We look forward to the participation and the comments of the American people."

What happens in the coming months will determine whether communities will be protected from the prospect of another coal ash disaster like the one that struck eastern Tennessee, as well as from less visible but no less dangerous coal ash disasters unfolding in communities nationwide.

Read the entire post here.

Also on Monday, we — with the help of our Catawba Riverkeeper — listed ways you can comment on the EPA's impending ruling on coal ash. Click here for the simple instructions. It will only take a minute of your time.

David Merryman, our Riverkeeper, reports that he needs more of you to request a public meeting on the topic ... so, get to it. (And don't forget to copy him on the request.)

Not sure what to say or how your family may be affected by coal ash? Watch this:

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