Saturday, April 15, 2017

Coal ash with us now and......


Everybody knows about the smoke a d CO2 that flows from coal fired generating plants, but unless you have had one of their spills in your backyard, few are familiar with the problems of coal ash, what's left over after the burn.
Coal ash, the hazardous byproduct of burning coal to produce power, is a particularly insidious legacy of the nation’s dependence on coal. Unlike the visible and heavily regulated airborne emissions from power plant smokestacks, coal ash is largely unseen unless there is a major spill and, until recently, far less effectively regulated.

More than 100 million tons of coal ash is produced every year, one of the nation’s largest and most vexing streams of toxic waste. The hazardous dust and sludge — containing arsenic, mercury, lead and other heavy metals — fill more than a thousand landfills and bodies of water in nearly every state, threatening air, land, water and human health.

The Gallatin power plant is facing citizens’ complaints and two major lawsuits over its handling of coal ash. One suit, filed in 2015 by an environmental advocacy group in federal court, says the utility violated the Clean Water Act by allowing toxic leaks from its coal ash disposal ponds. A second, also filed in 2015, by the state’s attorney general and its environmental enforcement agency, asserts that the Tennessee Valley Authority broke state pollution laws and endangered public health.

The plant is among the Tennessee Valley Authority’s fleet of power stations, which have used fossil fuels, nuclear energy and renewable sources like hydropower to bring reliable electricity to parts of seven states across the Southeast. The authority, created in 1933 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, provides 99.7 percent of Tennessee’s electricity.

The Gallatin plant, like all others that burn coal, produces a steady and difficult-to-control stream of coal ash. Its disposal poses problems across the country, but particularly in the Southeast, which is highly dependent on coal for electricity.

“Gallatin is in many ways the worst site we’ve seen,” said Frank Holleman, a senior lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, the nonprofit legal organization that filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of two state conservation groups. The group has filed several other suits claiming environmental harm from improper handling of coal ash in other states.

Mr. Holleman said vigorous federal enforcement of laws governing coal ash disposal was crucial because utilities like the Tennessee Valley Authority, which are responsible for managing coal ash storage, held so much political sway at the state level. He said that support for protecting water supplies from coal ash contamination cut across party lines and that efforts by the Trump administration to curb enforcement would be opposed even by residents who had voted for the president.
The current disposal method includes creating a slurry that is pumped into ponds to settle. While doing so, the water can seep into the ground carrying the concentrated toxins in the ash. Many along riversides have broken through or flooded over into the rivers they abut. And what few rules are in place to control the pollution from coal ash are about to be rescinded by that shitweasel Scott Pruitt because who needs clean water?

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