Wednesday, December 24, 2008

In Tennessee, the myth of "clean" coal meets the reality of crumbling infrastructure


by Ken

I assume everyone has heard about the coal-ash disaster. Here's an account by Dana from West Virginia from Monday, with an update:

Coal Ash Slurry Pond Bursts in Tennessee

Update: This Tennessee TVA spill is over 40 times bigger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, if local news accounts are correct. This is a huge environmental disaster of epic proportions, approximately 500 million gallons of nasty black coal ash flowed into tributaries of the Tennessee River - the water supply for Chattanooga TN and millions of people living downstream in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. We’re “lucky” it was sludgy, or thousands would have died. Click here to see an amazing aerial video of the spill - the big chunks in the river are mounds of coal ash.


This is the kind of scary thing that people living with coal worry about every day, while the industry (and some big greens) say that coal will be “clean” if we find out how to sequester the carbon. Just today, 39 groups banded together to ask President Elect Obama to overturn Bush’s recent attempts to de-regulate coal ash even more.

In February 1972, Buffalo Creek Sludge Impoundment, a mere 132 million gallons, killed 125 people, left 5,000 homeless and thousands more with post traumatic stress disorder. In 2000, a 2.2 billion gallon coal waste dam failed in Martin County, Kentucky. The largest dam in the hemisphere is the Brushy Fork Sludge Impoundment, which holds 9 billion gallons of toxic coal waste.

So, this is the history coalfield residents hold in our hearts when we open our emails and see “Slurry Pond Bursts.” Last night, 4 to 6 feet of ice cold toxic coal ash and ice cold slurry burst out of the pond and buried 12 homes, 400 acres, and wrecked a train. This spill likely contained mercury, arsenic, and other toxic heavy metals like beryllium and cadmium.

Coal ash is what is leftover when you burn coal. The “Clean Coal” tools talk about putting “scrubbers” to “clean” the air coming out of the stacks, but that just isolates the toxins in the coal ash, which is generally stored in unlined pits near the power plant.

Coal ash is an enormous problem throughout the US. It is more radioactive than nuclear waste, according to Scientific American and is under-regulated. It is made into concrete, drywall, and as a road building material. People living near coal ash dumps have 900 times the national cancer rates.

I’m going to guess that cancer figure just increased even more in eastern Tennessee.

By the way, I love Dana's blog bio, and I think you will too:
Dana works on the national council of the Student Environmental Action Coalition in Charleston, WV Visit She likes to make papier mache stuff with five year olds. She likes mountains that haven't been blown all to hell. She likes communities that fight back when their mountains have been blown all to hell. She doesn't like coal, or blowing up mountains. She especially doesn't like (not so) Clean Coal (no such thing) and thinks Carbon Sequestration is a bad deal for communities and kids. And really, who else matters?

From Reagan to Chimpy: A Legacy of Cluelessness

As Rachel Maddow has been pointing out, the Tennessee episode is also yet another entry on the growing list of failing-infrastructure disasters. One of the many things I love about Rachel is that she is a confirmed infrastructure worrier. And last night she provided an overview that may be obvious but hadn't quite occurred to me in quite this form.

In the '30s, she pointed out, the U.S. made a major investment in infrastructure -- notably with all those WPA projects. And again in the '50s we made a substantial investment. So we would have been due again, she suggested, oh, around 1980. And then she showed a clip of the sainted Ronald Reagan spewing his brilliant wisdom about government not being the solution to all problems.

Now, of course, we can recognize that eight years of Reaganism laid a superb foundation for the destruction of the country from within. That jovial smile -- and, yes, the withering sneer -- was the mask of Satan. That overweening self-confidence was built on nothing but arrogant imbecility combined with a healthy dose of megalomania.

Infrastructure needs constant maintenance and renewal as well as updating. The sainted Ronnie was too stupid, ideologically whacked out, and protective of the pocketbooks of the upper class to understand that yes indeed, infrastructure is absolutely the responsibility of government.

The next time you hear someone say good things about the scumbag Reagan, you can advise that person helpfully to shove it up his/her rectum.

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