Even as coal waste erupted, one city and one judge cooperated
Ash may ooze but a Kentucky town and a DC appeals court go green
One reason we abuse our natural world is that most of us are estranged from nature, not just from wilderness but also from her bounty; the economic value of land and resources now line very few pockets. But if we all benefited equitably -- a justice that geonomics is designed to deliver -- than we’d all have a stake in keeping our environment as pristine as possible. While the Tennessee spill is a worrisome harbinger of worse if coal becomes king, a Kentucky city and Washington DC court have taken major strides forward. We trim, blend, and append three 2008 articles on the environment in America’s Dixie from: (1) USA Today on Louisville, Dec 17; (2) the Christian Science Monitor on the EPA rule, Dec 23; and (3) CNN on the spill, Dec 24.
by James Bruggers and by Eoin O’Carroll and by Samira Simone
Breaking bread together helped Louisville clean up air
In Louisville, which had Southeast America’s most hazardous air, people who lived near chemical plants called Rubbertown put up with stench and burning eyes until a decade ago. Then a minister from the predominantly black neighborhoods around Rubbertown organized protests. Businessmen threatened to close plants and relocate but after years of squabbling and negotiations, in 2005 they, the city, and citizens reached agreement.
One of the keys to the success of the community/business task force was that its meetings were held over supper; it's difficult to break bread together and fight a lot.
But consensus was not complete. Ford Motors and the United Auto Workers -- since jobs are most people’s only source of income -- supported a bill introduced by a Republican state senator from Louisville to kill the program. It died instead.
Once chemical companies complied with the city’s law, they cut cancer-causing emissions from the most sickening plants 75%.
Some plants have spent several million dollars each to pay for new pollution controls. The savings in medical attention and worker efficiency -- never mind the value of human and nonhuman life -- were not calculated.
Having cut those emissions, Louisville is now developing rules to reduce engine idling and is considering other actions to tighten vapors from smaller dry cleaners.
Editor’s Note: A federal government body also gave life to a new rule for sanitizing the air we breathe, while still another agency did calculate the avoided costs.
Court reinstates EPA clean-air rule
A federal appeals court reversed itself on an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that sought to cut harmful pollution from power plants and other facilities in the Eastern US.
Set to take effect on Jan. 1, the Clean Air Interstate Rule would cap allowable emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in 28 Eastern and Midwestern states. The EPA says that the rule would prevent about 17,000 deaths a year and save up to $100 billion in health benefits.
But this past July, following a lawsuit against the EPA by the State of North Carolina and some electric power producers, the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit threw out the rule, claiming it favored coal over natural gas.
That ruling disappointed power companies that had invested billions in anticipation of a more robust market in trading emission permits that would have arisen under the rule.
But after hearing the case again, the DC court reversed its decision in order to let the next administration consider it.
Editor’s Note: So, North Carolina cares which fuel we burn. Actually, we should probably not burn much of anything and instead get electricity from sunlight and the motions of wind and wave. To let all power sources compete fairly, we’d have to quit subsidies and enforce laws to protect our health and environment, which Tennesse was a little lax in recently.
Tennessee sludge spill runs over homes, water
More than 500 million gallons of sludge at a coal-burning electricity plant broke through its containment mound in central Tennessee and covered up to 400 acres of land, a bigger area than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
The slide happened in Kingston, about 40 miles east of Knoxville. A wall of solid waste as high as 6 feet damaged 15 homes, burying porches and garage doors; all the residents were evacuated. The slide also downed nearby power lines.
The plant, owned by The Tennessee Valley Authority, sits on a tributary of the Tennessee River called the Clinch River. Some of the goop spilled into the tributary. A video from the scene shows dead fish on its banks.
Through sludge runoff, the fly ash can enter the water supply. The TVA said, “until an analysis comes in, you can't call it toxic." One environmental attorney called that statement "irresponsible."
Fly ash is left over from the combustion of coal. Coal contains mercury, arsenic, and benzine. They concentrate during burning so the residual is more toxic than the fuel. The more successful power plants are at removing toxins from their exhaust gas, the more toxic they make their solid waste.
Another spill occurred eight years ago in eastern Kentucky, where the bottom of a coal sludge impoundment owned by Massey Energy broke into an abandoned underground mine, oozing more than 300 million gallons of coal waste into tributaries. The water supply for more than 25,000 residents was contaminated, and aquatic life in the area perished. It took months to clean up the spill.
"If the estimates are correct, this spill is one and a half times bigger," said Dave Cooper, an environmental advocate with the Mountaintop Removal Road Show, a traveling program that explains the effect of an extreme form of mining.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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