[Marxism] Email and coal ash trails
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Dec 25 07:56:29 MST 2008
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
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.
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."
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
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
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
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.
More information about the Marxism