Monday, December 29

Old Clean Coal?

After reading about the coal "fly ash" disaster in Tennessee where a billion gallons of coal slurry from a coal-fired power plant(along with its by-products arsenic and mercury) was washed into the Tennessee River after a retaining wall holding it back in a storage tank collapsed, I question whether there is anything clean about coal. Coal-burning plants currently produce about half the electricity in the United States.

This spill is affecting two tributaries of the Tennessee River. The Tennessee is a major river system and a drinking water source for millions of people downstream in Chattanooga, plus Alabama, west Tennessee and Kentucky. The EPA claims that the drinking water in the area is safe, but the arsenic levels in the river water itself are at dangerous levels for fish and aquatic life. Water from other sources that are not normally treated, such as private drinking water wells or springs, may be contaminated if impacted by the release of the fly ash. These sources of water should not be used for drinking, cooking or bathing until they have been evaluated. EPA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation continue to sample drinking water wells, municipal water, soils, river water and river sediment.

Two environmental activists were detained by TVA police Friday as the utility stepped up security around the site of the ash spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant.
"All we are doing was taking pictures," David Cooper, with the non-profit environmental group United Mountain Defense.

Cooper and another activist, Matt Landon, say that's when TVA officials confronted them. "There was a little pull-off on the road and we pulled over and we were immediately accosted and told they would be arrested," Cooper said. The two men say they were then detained by police on a portion of road is now blocked off by an increased presence from TVA police.

According to Coal is Dirty, fly ash is is collected in coal plant smokestacks, stored on site and often is recycled into construction material. Before pollution controls, the ash simply spewed into the air. Now it's placed in retention ponds or in dry storage. There is three times as much coal ash as municipal solid waste generated in America every year. ( "Big Coal," Jeff Goodell page 123). About 130 million tons of coal ash and power plant scrubber sludge are generated annually. "Coal ash contains heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, and lead. An article in Scientific American magazine dated Dec 13, 2007 states that coal ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste."

We need green energy: geothermal, wind, wave, and solar. The transition is underway, but we need to invest in the infrastructure so that coal plants can be phased out as soon as possible. The best part is it will create new jobs as well as reduce green- house gases dramatically.

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