[Marxism] Email and coal ash trails

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Dec 25 07:56:29 MST 2008


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/11/AR2008121103669.html

Seasoned Regulators to Lead Obama Environment Program

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008; A09

The Obama administration has ambitions for a radical change in U.S. 
environmental policy. But President-elect Barack Obama did not pick 
radicals to lead it.

Instead, the three officials tapped for leadership posts on the 
environment are not activists but regulators who have spent years in 
the weeds of such issues as mercury emissions, brownfields and 
black-bear hunts.

They will inherit the usual issues -- dirty air, dirty water, 
brownfields and red tides -- plus an unprecedented one. Obama has 
promised to cut back U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases -- a proposal 
that could set off an enormous political fight.

A review of their records and past statements reveals little about 
the exact policies they would pursue under Obama. It shows they have 
won over some environmental activists with an open attitude and 
disappointed others who felt they were not pushing hard enough.

Their expected efforts to limit greenhouse gases would be more 
ambitious than changes they have sought in previous positions.

"It's going to be an enormous challenge," said Felicia Marcus, the 
western director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "To call 
it 'herding cats' would be to oversimplify it. It's like herding 
dogs, cats, wolves and sheep."

Democratic sources say Obama plans to name Carol M. Browner, a former 
administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to a new 
position overseeing energy, environment and climate change policy 
from the White House.

(clip)

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http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/dec/24/climate-czar-left-no-electronic-trail/
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Climate czar left no electronic trail
Jim McElhatton (Contact)

Don't bother looking for any electronic records of Carol Browner's 
first stint as a federal government executive. The soon-to-be Obama 
administration climate czar intentionally didn't keep many.

In sworn testimony obtained by The Washington Times, Ms. Browner 
disclosed that she refused to use e-mail when she served as President 
Clinton's Environmental Protection Agency chief in the 1990s for fear 
of leaving a digital trail. She also ordered her government computer 
hard drive wiped clean of records just before leaving office.

"It was a conscious decision not to use a piece of equipment or to 
learn how to use a piece of equipment because I didn't want to be in 
a situation similar to what I had been in Florida," she testified 
about government computers. The testimony referred to her days as an 
environmental regulator in Florida, where an e-mail message sent to 
her surfaced in litigation.

"This is why I made this decision not to use my computer," she said. 
"I was very careful."

(clip)

----

Waste News, May 1, 2000, Monday
U.S. EPA rules on coal waste; Material termed not hazardous
BYLINE: Susanna Duff

WASHINGTON -- Coal combustion waste is not hazardous and can continue 
to be land disposed or used as mining fill, the U.S. Environmental 
Protection Agency said last week.

However, the agency will develop national standards under the 
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Combustion waste currently is 
exempt from federal regulation, but fossil fuel combustion has toxic 
metals that could potentially contaminate ground water, the EPA said.

The EPA's April 25 proclamation came after several extensions from 
the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which last year 
ordered the agency to determine whether fossil fuel waste is 
hazardous. The agency since had given two opposing answers. Last 
year, the EPA gave Congress a report based on a 19-year scientific 
study that found coal combustion waste was not hazardous and should 
be regulated as solid waste under RCRA Subtitle D.

But this February, the EPA determined combustion waste is hazardous 
and should be regulated under Subtitle C.

The agency caved under pressure from environmental groups, argued 
industry groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Edison 
Electric Institute and several state environmental agencies.

Environmentalists, including the National Environmental Trust and the 
Clean Air Task Force, had sent a letter dated Jan. 13 to EPA 
Administrator Carol Browner stating a hazardous determination would 
"hasten the building and operation of newer, modern plants using 
clear fuels, thus reducing the full range of air emissions." The 
groups are thought to recently have sent the deciding report to the EPA.

The agency's reversal to call combusted waste hazardous had surprised 
members of Congress and industry groups.

In a Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee hearing, Sen. 
James Inhofe, R-Okla., expressed concern that the agency was going 
against its own scientists under the influence of environmentalists. 
Inhofe indicated that the EPA's final decision could affect the 
budget of the agency's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

"If the states and industry do not take steps to address these wastes 
adequately in a reasonable amount of time or if EPA identifies 
additional risks to public health, EPA will revisit this decision to 
determine whether a hazardous waste approach is needed," said Michael 
McCabe, EPA acting deputy administrator.

----

NY Times, December 25, 2008
Coal Ash Spill Revives Issue of Its Hazards
By SHAILA DEWAN

KINGSTON, Tenn. — What may be the nation's largest spill of coal ash 
lay thick and largely untouched over hundreds of acres of land and 
waterways Wednesday after a dam broke this week, as officials and 
environmentalists argued over its potential toxicity.

Federal studies have long shown coal ash to contain significant 
quantities of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and selenium, which can 
cause cancer and neurological problems. But with no official word on 
the dangers of the sludge in Tennessee, displaced residents spent 
Christmas Eve worried about their health and their property, and 
wondering what to do.

The spill took place at the Kingston Fossil Plant, a Tennessee Valley 
Authority generating plant about 40 miles west of Knoxville on the 
banks of the Emory River, which feeds into the Clinch River, and then 
the Tennessee River just downstream.

Holly Schean, a waitress whose home, which she shared with her 
parents, was swept off its foundation when millions of cubic yards of 
ash breached a retaining wall early Monday morning, said, "They're 
giving their apologies, which don't mean very much."

The T.V.A., Ms. Schean said, has not yet declared the house 
uninhabitable. But, she said: "I don't need your apologies. I need 
information."

Even as the authority played down the risks, the spill reignited a 
debate over whether the federal government should regulate coal ash 
as a hazardous material. Similar ponds and mounds of ash exist at 
hundreds of coal plants around the nation.

The Tennessee Valley Authority has issued no warnings about the 
potential chemical dangers of the spill, saying there was as yet no 
evidence of toxic substances. "Most of that material is inert," said 
Gilbert Francis Jr., a spokesman for the authority. "It does have 
some heavy metals within it, but it's not toxic or anything."

Mr. Francis said contaminants in water samples taken near the spill 
site and at the intake for the town of Kingston, six miles 
downstream, were within acceptable levels.

But a draft report last year by the federal Environmental Protection 
Agency found that fly ash, a byproduct of the burning of coal to 
produce electricity, does contain significant amounts of carcinogens 
and retains the heavy metal present in coal in far higher 
concentrations. The report found that the concentrations of arsenic 
to which people might be exposed through drinking water contaminated 
by fly ash could increase cancer risks several hundredfold.

Similarly, a 2006 study by the federally chartered National Research 
Council found that these coal-burning byproducts "often contain a 
mixture of metals and other constituents in sufficient quantities 
that they may pose public health and environmental concerns if 
improperly managed." The study said "risks to human health and 
ecosystems" might occur when these contaminants entered drinking 
water supplies or surface water bodies.

In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed stricter 
federal controls of coal ash, but backed away in the face of fierce 
opposition from utilities, the coal industry, and Clinton 
administration officials. At the time, the Edison Electric Institute, 
an association of power utilities, estimated that the industry would 
have to spend up to $5 billion in additional cleanup costs if the 
substance were declared hazardous. Since then, environmentalists have 
urged tighter federal standards, and the E.P.A. is reconsidering its 
decision not to classify the waste as hazardous.

A morning flight over the disaster area showed some cleanup activity 
along a road and the railroad tracks that take coal to the facility, 
both heaped in sludge, but no evidence of promised skimmers or 
barricades on the water to prevent the ash from sliding downstream. 
The breach occurred when an earthen dike, the only thing separating 
millions of cubic yards of ash from the river, gave way, releasing a 
glossy sea of muck, four to six feet thick, dotted with icebergs of 
ash across the landscape. Where the Clinch River joined the 
Tennessee, a clear demarcation was visible between the soiled waters 
of the former and the clear brown broth of the latter.

By afternoon, dump trucks were depositing rock into the river in a 
race to blockade it before an impending rainstorm washed more ash downstream.

The spill, which released about 300 million gallons of sludge and 
water, is far larger than the other two similar disasters, said 
Jeffrey Stant, the director of the Coal Combustion Waste Initiative 
for the Environmental Integrity Project, an environmental legal 
group, who has written on the subject for the E.P.A. One spill in 
1967 on the Clinch River in Virginia released about 130 million 
gallons, and the other in 2005 in Northampton County, Pa., released 
about 100 million gallons into the Delaware River.

The contents of coal ash can vary widely depending on the source, but 
one study found that the mean concentrations of lead, chromium, 
nickel and arsenic are three to five times higher in the Appalachian 
coal that is mined near Kingston than in Rocky Mountain or Northern 
Plains coal.

Stephen A. Smith, the executive director of the Southern Alliance for 
Clean Energy, said it was "mind-boggling" that officials had not 
warned nearby residents of the dangers.

"The fact that they have not warned people, I think, is disastrous 
and potentially harmful to the residents," Mr. Smith said. "There are 
people walking around, checking it out."

He and other environmentalists warned that another danger would arise 
when the muck dried out and became airborne and breathable.

Despite numerous reports from recreational anglers and television 
news video of a large fish kill downstream of the spill, Mr. Francis 
said the T.V.A.'s environmental team had not encountered any dead 
fish. On Swan Pond Road, home to the residences nearest the plant, a 
group of environmental advocates went door to door telling residents 
that boiling their water, as officials had suggested, would not 
remove heavy metals.

Environmentalists pointed to the accident as proof of their long-held 
assertion that there is no such thing as "clean coal," noting two 
factors that may have contributed to the scale of the disaster. 
First, as coal plants have gotten better at controlling air 
pollution, the toxic substances that would have been spewed into the 
air have been shifted to solid byproducts like fly ash, and the 
production of such postcombustion waste, as it is called, has 
increased sharply.

Second, the Kingston plant, surrounded by residential tracts, had 
little room to grow and simply piled its ash higher and higher, 
though officials said the pond whose wall gave way was not over capacity.

Environmental groups have long pressed for coal ash to be buried in 
lined landfills to prevent the leaching of metals into the soil and 
groundwater, a recommendation borne out by the 2006 E.P.A. report. An 
above-ground embankment like the one at Kingston was not an 
appropriate storage site for fly ash, said Thomas J. FitzGerald, the 
director of nonprofit Kentucky Resources Council and an expert in coal waste.

"I find it difficult to comprehend that the State of Tennessee would 
have approved that as a permanent disposal site," Mr. FitzGerald said.

The T.V.A. will find an alternative place to dispose of the fly ash 
in the future, Mr. Francis said. He said that at least 30 pieces of 
heavy machinery had been put in use to begin the cleanup of the 
estimated 1.7 million cubic yards of ash that spilled from the 
80-acre pond, and that work would continue day and night, even on 
Christmas. The plant, which generates enough electricity to support 
670,000 homes, is still functioning, but might run out of coal before 
the railroad tracks are cleared.

About 15 houses were affected by the flood, Mr. Francis said, and 
three would likely be declared uninhabitable. "We're going to make it 
right," he said. "We're going to restore these folks to where they 
were prior to this incident."

A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency, Laura Niles, 
said the agency was overseeing the cleanup and would decide whether 
to declare Kingston a Superfund site when the extent of the 
contamination was known.

United States coal plants produce 129 million tons of postcombustion 
byproducts a year, the second-largest waste stream in the country, 
after municipal solid waste. That is enough to fill more than a 
million railroad coal cars, according to the National Research Council.

Another 2007 E.P.A. report said that over about a decade, 67 towns in 
26 states had their groundwater contaminated by heavy metals from such dumps.

For instance, in Anne Arundel County, Md., between Baltimore and 
Annapolis, residential wells were polluted by heavy metals, including 
thallium, cadmium and arsenic, leaching from a sand-and-gravel pit 
where ash from a local power plant had been dumped since the 
mid-1990s by the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company. Maryland fined 
the company $1 million in 2007.

As it grew dark in Kingston, a hard rain enveloped Roane County, 
rendering the twin smokestacks of the steam plant, as locals refer to 
it, barely visible amid the dingy clouds.

Angela Spurgeon, a teacher and mother of two whose dock was smothered 
in the ash-slide, said she was worried about the health effects, 
saying that on the night of the accident everyone was covered in sludge.

"The breathing is what concerns me, the lung issues," Ms. Spurgeon 
said. "Who knows what's in that water?"

Felicity Barringer and Robbie Brown contributed reporting.





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