coal ash contamination

Coal Ash Wednesday: The toxification of Puerto Rico

The dangers of being an unincorporated U.S. territory:

Since 2002, when AES’s coal-fired electricity plant was opened under the auspices of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), AES has been littering the territory with poisonous coal ash waste. Over the past 17 years, the Virginia-based company, which produces 17 percent of the territory’s electricity, is responsible for roughly 400,000 documented tons of coal ash, dumped without adequate safeguards, exposing local communities to major public-health hazards.

It's bad enough that we don't clamp down on U.S. companies that dangerously pollute other countries. But Puerto Rico is not a foreign entity; those are American citizens being poisoned, and they deserve the same safeguards we have. That's not asking for much, frankly, because even we don't have the safeguards we need. But this would not fly here:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Denial is a river in Egypt

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Duke Energy does not like new report on Allen Steam Station:

At the Allen plant on Lake Wylie, coal ash storage sites have polluted groundwater with nine contaminants, including arsenic, cobalt and lithium, at levels exceeding federal safety standards, the report said. The findings, released by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, are based on data that became publicly available for the first time last year because of federal regulations.

Charlotte-based Duke pushed back on the findings, accusing the environmental groups of cherry-picking data in an attempt to advance a misleading narrative and extreme agenda.

If by "cherry-picking" you mean highlighting important data points so they won't get lost in the noise, then yes:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Florence likely to bring environmental nightmare

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And coal ash pits are perfectly situated to be flooded out:

Since power plants need vast amounts of water to generate steam, their unlined waste pits are located along lakes and rivers. Some of the pits were inundated during past storms, including during Floyd and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

After a 2014 spill at a Duke plant coated 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic gray sludge, state regulators forced the Charlotte-based company to begin phasing out its coal ash pits by 2029. Because that work was already underway, wastewater levels inside the ash ponds have been falling, Duke Energy spokesman Bill Norton said Tuesday. "We're more prepared than ever," said Norton, adding that crews will be monitoring water levels at the pits throughout the storm.

Yeah, you can "monitor" those pits all you want, but if they are overrun by flood waters, and those dirt berms collapse, there is literally nothing you can do to stop the contamination. As I've mentioned in the past, using water for steam and cooling is not the only reason those pits are right on the banks of rivers. It's also a handy way of draining that toxic water right into a fast-moving body, where evidence of the discharge disappears after a short period of time. In addition to coal ash, pig poop and nukes are also a concern:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke Energy's self-regulating "research" is flawed

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Extracted from the 2017 4th quarter Executive Summary of the Allen Steam Station:

An update to the 2016 human health and ecological risk assessment was conducted. There is no evidence of unacceptable risk to humans and wildlife at Allen attributed to CCR constituent migration in groundwater from the ash basins. The only evidence of potential unacceptable human related risks estimated in the 2016 risk assessment was under the hypothetical subsistence fisherman scenario due to concentrations of cobalt in fish tissue. This risk assessment update supports that the fisher risks were overestimated based on conservative exposure (it is unlikely subsistence fishermen exist in the area) and modeled fish tissue uptake assumptions (modeled concentrations likely exceed actual fish tissue concentrations if measured), supporting a risk classification of “Low” based upon groundwater related considerations.

This is not research, it's rhetoric, carefully crafted to leave the reader confident there's nothing to worry about. The "cobalt in fish" thing is simply a red herring, if you'll pardon my use of a salt water species to drive home a point. If they reported they'd found nothing at all, people wouldn't believe them. So we get cobalt in fish, that nobody's going to eat anyway. Just an aside: Cobalt concentrations detected in at least three common species have been proven to reduce appetite, subsequently stunting growth in the fish affected. The truth is, there are several other toxins even worse than cobalt leaking from the Allen plant:

Thinly veiled threats from Duke Energy over discovery of radioactive elements in groundwater

The unmitigated arrogance is breathtaking:

Duke Energgy spokeswoman Erin Culbert took issue with a recent press release from the Waterkeeper Alliance pointing out the high radium levels. She accused the “critic groups” of “drawing conclusions at this early stage to simply use this milestone to advance their agenda.”

“They seek to sign up North Carolinians for the most extreme, most disruptive and most expensive way to close basins, Culbert continued. “That’s not prudent for the environment, communities or families’ energy bills.”

Bolding mine. In a nutshell, she's trying to shift the blame for future higher energy bills from the party responsible for contaminating the water (Duke Energy) onto the shoulders of those who are working diligently to keep people safe from such irresponsible behavior. It doesn't get much more sleazy than that. It's like blaming the person who called 911 about a neighbor's house being on fire. And make no mistake, this particular house fire is out of control:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke Energy pockets $231 million from Trump's tax scam

And that's just for the last three months of 2017:

Electric Utilities and Infrastructure recognized fourth quarter 2017 segment income of $826 million, compared to $483 million in the fourth quarter of 2016. In addition to the drivers outlined below, fourth quarter 2017 results were impacted by a $231 million benefit related to the Tax Act and a $14 million after-tax charge related to regulatory settlements. These amounts were treated as special items and excluded from
adjusted earnings.

On an adjusted basis, Electric Utilities and Infrastructure recognized fourth quarter 2017 adjusted segment income of $609 million, compared to $483 million in the fourth quarter of 2016, an increase of $0.18 per share.

A couple of clarifications: That net $826 million is from all utilities, not just those actually operating in North Carolina. But that was "netted" from about $3.2 billion dollars in revenues, for the 4th Quarter alone. And one of the best ways to judge just how profitable a company is, you need to look at stockholders' dividend payments:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Judge refuses to dismiss lawsuit against Duke Energy

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When you have yet to clean up your mess, but still want to go outside and play:

A Duke Energy lawyer told a trio of judges on the state Court of Appeals the lawsuit filed by the state's environmental protection agency and joined by conservation groups should be dismissed. Coal ash, the residue left after decades of burning coal to generate power, can contain toxic materials like arsenic and mercury.

The company was in court in part because Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway has refused to dismiss the lawsuit. Ridgeway has indicated he would review the remediation plan the state Department of Environmental Quality approves, then decide independently whether the agency is requiring enough from Duke Energy to clean up the pollution, Long said.

It's no coincidence this legal gambit is taking place 13 days before Duke Energy's first substantial hearing on their massive rate hike request before the NC Utilities Commission. That case contains many "findings of fact" on Duke Energy's negligence in coal ash management, and if they can make that go away, it will strengthen their argument for a rate increase while severely weakening the opposition to it. And just to give a voice to those who will be adversely affected by this unreasonable action:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke's attorneys go on the attack as hearings wind down

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Also claiming unlined pits were once considered a "feature" and not recklessly negligent:

Duke Energy blasted its opponents in a final regulatory filing Friday, saying they leaned on "simplistic crutches," false analysis and a Pollyanna hindsight to argue against the company's bid to raise electricity rates enough to cover clean up costs at the company's coal ash ponds.

The company complied with existing laws and industry standards when it left wet ash in unlined pits for decades, they said. At one point "the lack of a liner was considered a feature, rather than a flaw" because soil would filter out contaminants, the company said. Impact on groundwater wasn't initially a concern "because the ash basins were built more than a decade before the adoption of any federal or state regulation related to groundwater corrective action," attorneys argued.

Here's a quick primer for those who may not be aware how environmental statutes and regulations come into being: There is (or has been) usually a period of 10-20 years where contamination is discovered, investigated, then viciously fought-over in civil court, before the demands for government regulation grow to the point some rule or law is put into place to stop it. And during that pre-regulation phase, you can be damned sure attorneys for companies like Duke Energy were well aware of what was going on, and what needed to be done to improve those impoundments. Luckily for us, Josh Stein isn't drinking their arsenic-tainted Kool-Aid, and his legal opposition is definitely not pro-forma:

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