coal ash contamination

Coal Ash Wednesday: Greenway or Brownway?

Bolin Creek in Chapel Hill has a coal ash problem:

The Town is awaiting further direction from the NC Department of Environmental Quality on its recommendations for next steps for this site. This was the site of a coal ash infill that dates from the 1960s and 1970s. When the Town discovered the materials in late 2013, we acted quickly to notify NC DENR, which is the old name for what is now known as NC DEQ. We are committed to following all environmental laws and standards to ensure the health and safety of our community.

I just stumbled across this, so if I get a few things wrong hopefully someone will correct me. The Town may have "discovered" the coal ash in 2013, but seven years later they were still "discovering" how bad the problem was:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Trump EPA rule delays closures until 2038

coalashwilmington.jpg

Coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler has a special place in hell waiting for him:

A coalition of nine environmental groups is suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over a rule that extends the life of giant pits of toxic coal sludge, risking contamination of nearby water sources.

The July rule allows for the more than 400 coal ash pits across the nation, where coal residue is mixed with liquid and stored in open-air, often unlined ponds, to stay open as late as 2038.

We can't be shed of this monster soon enough. While it remains to be seen how much Duke Energy will try to take advantage of this, I have a hunch it will depend on if they're allowed to fleece ratepayers for cleaning up their own mess or not. A few words from Earthjustice:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Trump's EPA is literally trying to kill us

coalashslurry.jpg

Andrew Wheeler just made millions for his coal industry pals:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized a rule that revises regulations for coal-fired power plants, a move that will limit the number of generation facilities that could incur costs for failing to comply with pollution limits. The action on Aug. 31 revises a rule established in 2015, when the EPA issued an order that for the first time set federal limits on the levels of toxic metals in wastewater that could be discharged from power plants.

Coal industry executives, critical of the original restrictions which they characterized as costly and burdensome, praised Monday’s changes. Andrew Wheeler, the EPA administrator who is a former coal industry lobbyist, described the revisions as “more affordable pollution control technologies” that would “reduce pollution and save jobs at the same time.”

Bolding mine, because we see this nonsense all the time from Republicans. They are actually increasing pollution, not reducing it, but in this truth-challenged Trump era, casual lies like this are a daily staple. Thankfully, this rule change is on SELC's radar:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Here we go again

coalashratehike.jpg

Duke Energy wants increased rates to pay for coal ash cleanup:

Duke Energy is urging state regulators to approve rate increases at its two North Carolina electric utilities, including money to pay for cleanups of toxic coal ash.

Duke treasurer Karl Newlin told the North Carolina Utilities Commission Monday that if the company isn't allowed to recover coal ash cleanup costs, it could lead to a downgrade in its credit ratings and scare off investors. His testimony came during the first day of a public hearing on the proposed rate increases that are being conducted online.

Not to put too fine a point on it, that "credit ratings" scare tactic is a load of crap. But before I explain why, here's Lynn Good from their 2020 Q2 Earnings call:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Think of the children

coalburning.jpg

Because exposure to coal ash can be devastating to them:

Experimental research has demonstrated that fine and ultrafine particulate matter can pass directly through the nasal olfactory pathway into the circulatory system to the brain.18,19 In addition, research has shown when air pollution is cleared from the lungs it can enter the gut and exit the body via the gastrointestinal tract.20

Chronic exposure to air pollution and particulate matter has been found to cause chronic inflammation and elevated levels of cytokines throughout the body and brain.18,19 In addition, some of the metals in fly ash are neurotoxins,21-24 and exposure to neurotoxic heavy metals during rapid growth in the early stages of life can disrupt developmental processes and result in neurological dysfunction.17,24

Normally I would remove those reference numbers to make the reading easier, but it's good to occasionally give a nod to legitimate research. There's so much industry-funded nonsense out there (a lot of) people can't tell the difference anymore. Prior to the Clean Smokestacks Act of 2002, a heinous amount of the fly ash produced by coal combustion was escaping into the air, literally blanketing the state. But even with the new scrubbers in place these days, particulate matter from coal burning is still polluting our skies. And children are especially vulnerable:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Trump moves to deregulate bottom liners

trumpglare.jpg

Because what's the problem with a little leakage?

The EPA's proposal would ease regulations for the liners that coat the bottom of coal ash pits in order to stop the cancer-linked substance from leaking into groundwater. It would also in some cases allow the use of coal ash in closing landfills.

“These common-sense changes will provide the flexibilities owners and operators need to determine the most appropriate way to manage [coal ash] and the closure of units based on site-specific conditions,” EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. Environmentalists, however, said that the changes would weaken environmental protections.

I am getting really sick of these Orwellian statements coming out of Trump's Kakistocracy. Wheeler is a former lobbyist for coal giant Murray Energy, and this is not his first effort to undermine safety when it comes to coal ash:

Coal Ash Wednesday: NCUC Public Staff opposes Duke rate hike request

coalashslurry.jpg

Continuing to profit from negligent behavior is wrong:

The Public Staff recommends denying Duke’s request to bill customers for $161 million in ash-related costs at its power plants. The agency also recommends collecting remaining expenses over 26 years instead of the five years that Duke proposes. Those steps, the agency says, would have the effect of evenly splitting the costs between shareholders and customers.

Duke “had a duty to comply with long-standing North Carolina environmental regulations, and it failed that duty many times over many years at every coal-fired power plant it owns in North Carolina,” a Public Staff official said in written testimony.

This has become an annual (if not semi-annual) battle, and frankly the NCUC needs to put its foot down. Duke Energy is a financial monster, the single largest utility in the Western Hemisphere. It pays healthy dividends to stockholders every quarter, and plans to spend about $37 Billion over the next four years on new acquisitions alone:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Hold on to your wallets

dukeenergybuilding.jpg

Duke Energy looking to raise rates to pay for ash cleanup:

Duke argues that closing the ash basins, as state and federal rules now require, is part of its cost of doing business. That, it says, makes the company eligible to recover those costs by adding them to the electricity rates that consumers pay.

“We’re relying on the fair and well-established precedent in North Carolina that allows us to recover money that we spend to comply with environmental rules and regulations,” Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said. “We’ve managed coal ash properly for decades, so historically the Utilities Commission determined that those costs are recoverable and should be included in customer bills.”

Bolding mine, because damn. That is Trump-level nonsense right there. The Dan River coal ash spill dumped 46,594 cubic yards into the River, leaving at least a 2" layer of toxic ash on the river bottom for over 10 miles. Just to give you a reference on such volume, that amount of coal ash would fill 330 tractor-trailers. If that's managing coal ash "properly," I'd hate to see what mismanagement would do. Thankfully Josh Stein isn't under any delusions about Duke Energy's responsibilities:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Lead isotope can trace origins of coal ash

coalashslurry.jpg

Duke Energy's "naturally occurring" argument just went lame:

Tests show that the tracer can distinguish between the chemical signature of lead that comes from coal ash and lead that comes from other major human or natural sources, including legacy contamination from leaded gasoline and lead paint. "Lead adds to our forensic toolbox and gives us a powerful new method for tracking fly ash contamination in the environment," said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

The tracer broadens scientists' ability to assess and monitor exposure risks of people who live or work near coal ash ponds and landfills or near sites where coal ash is being spread on soil as fill or reused for other purposes.

As I mentioned above, Duke Energy has played the "naturally occurring" card numerous times when individual toxic elements are discovered, and fossil fuel-friendly lawmakers have parroted those talking points ad nauseum during hearings and debates. I have often been frustrated with government regulators (state and federal) for not upping their scientific game to pierce that ambiguity. But in reality, they are simply not funded well enough to accomplish the R&D work and the regulatory work. Especially since the GOP took over the NC General Assembly and cut DENR's/DEQ's budget by over 40%. That research shortfall was not a coincidence, it was by design. Once again, we are blessed to have Avner and the Nicholas School working toward solutions:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Go get 'em, Avner

Duke professor to address EPA over coal ash deregulation:

Nearly six years after a busted drainage pipe at a Duke Energy coal ash containment pond turned the Dan River into an oily sludge, the Trump administration is considering a move to roll back some of the Obama-era rules that ban the disposal of coal ash in soil or pits and landfills that aren't lined to protect the environment.

At his Duke University lab, ABC11 caught up with the geochemistry professor headed to the EPA hearing about the issue scheduled for Wednesday morning. Avner Vengosh told ABC11 he's going in hopes of convincing the agency to keep the protections in place. "My coming to EPA is to bring the science," said Vengosh. "Demonstrating that putting coal ash without restrictions is a really bad idea."

Professor Vengosh and his graduate students at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment have done groundbreaking work on contaminants that threaten water quality. They're the ones who (finally) proved the Methane contamination of drinking water wells actually originated from the shale being fracked miles below, by looking at the isotopic signature. So we should all be inclined to pay attention to them on this as well:

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - coal ash contamination