Southeast Summer Coal Ash Roundup

Would you let your kids play here? At a glance, there's no way to know of the massive, unlined coal ash pits lurking near a soccer field and polluting a popular fishing lake at the Sutton Power Station near Wilmington, NC.

Since the Dan River disaster hit almost 6 months ago, North Carolina has been front and center in coal ash news. So much so that it might seem that NC is the only Southeastern state with coal ash troubles. Unfortunately, North Carolina’s dangerous coal ash sites are not unique in the region, which is home to at least 450 ash dumps. The sad fact is that most major rivers in the Southeast have coal ash along their banks, and states are failing to protect public health, the environment and our drinking water supplies from this toxic threat. Even when coal ash impoundments don’t fail and cause a massive spill, they can silently seep toxics into groundwater, rivers, lakes and streams.

Here’s our roundup of current coal ash threats throughout the region. Read on to find out if there’s a coal ash site threatening your back yard or your favorite summer getaway, and if there is, make sure to speak out before the next coal ash spill happens in your community or watershed. You can also check out our state pages on www.SoutheastCoalAsh.org to learn more. 

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Breakfast of Efficiency Champions: A Panel Discussion on Energy Efficiency in the Southeast and the Impact of the Clean Power Plan

On a near-perfect day for a summertime conference in Atlanta, with cooler-than-usual temperatures and not a drop of rain, I had the pleasure of attending the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance‘s (SEEA’s) recent quarterly breakfast meeting. The July 16 event featured a panel discussion covering topics ranging from state building-code adoption and compliance, to the politics surrounding the Environmental Protection Agency‘s (EPA’s) draft Clean Power Plan.

Energy efficiency is increasingly a big business in the Southeast, and the numbers speak for themselves. A report published by Southface, and co-authored by breakfast attendee Shan Arora, indicates that the energy efficiency and building sciences sector employed 4,112 Georgians full-time in 2013 and generated $1.3 billion in revenue in 2012. Our host state is not alone, as new energy efficiency programs are taking root and expanding all across the Southeast. Read more…

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Gina McCarthy, the Power Plant Carbon Standards, and Reducing the Risks of Power Outages

This is a guest post by John Rogers, senior energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and co-manager of the Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative (EW3) that looks at water demands of energy production in the context of climate change. SACE is an active partner with UCS on this critical work. This blog was originally posted on June 5, 2014 via the UCS blog, “The Equation.”

The EPA’s new power plant carbon standards are a potential climate game changer for a whole lot of reasons, given how much fossil-fueled power plants contribute to global warming. And in her speech unveiling the proposed standards on Monday, in talking about what global warming means for the power sector, rather than the other way around, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy nailed it.

How climate change puts our electricity at risk

Administrator McCarthy’s speech was chock full of compelling points about the science of climate change, current and future impacts, and solutions.

Fort Calhoun nuclear plant in Nebraska, with too much Missouri River (Credit: Wikimedia/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

About three-quarters of the way through, she turned her attention to the reliability implications of our evolving fleet of coal, nuclear, natural gas, and renewable energy plants (emphasis added):

The critics are wrong about reliability, too. For decades, power plants have met pollution limits without risking reliability. If anything, what threatens reliability and causes blackouts is devastating extreme weather fueled by climate change. I’m tired of people pointing to the Polar Vortex as a reason not to act on climate. It’s exactly the opposite. Climate change heightens risks from extreme cold that freezes power grids, superstorms that drown power plants, and heat waves that stress power supplies.

Wildfires and power lines: not a great combination (Credit: Flickr/Colin Shackelford)

How climate change increases power sector risks was the exact subject of a recent UCS report. Power Failure: How climate change puts our electricity at risk—and what we can do looks at the ways our electricity system is vulnerable to extreme weather and how climate change is making some types of weather more common. It covers climate impacts including sea level rise, wildfires, drought, and heat waves, and what they all mean for power plants, power lines, and more. Read more…

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Taxpayers in the dark and at risk from Vogtle nuclear loan guarantees

SACE’s High Risk Energy Choices program director, Sara Barczak, contributed to this blog post from Whitney Rappole, 2014 graduate of Emory Law School and former Turner Environmental Law Clinic student.

Former Turner Environmental Law Clinic intern, Whitney Rappole

As a student attorney at the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory University School of Law, I was given the opportunity to join the Clinic in representing the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE). Together the Clinic and SACE have been working to uncover the truth about the $8.33 billion worth of federal loan guarantees offered by the Department of Energy (DOE) to Southern Company and its partners. Since February of 2010, when the DOE conditionally offered these loan guarantees, we’ve questioned what may be going on behind the scenes.

The $8.33 billion was to support construction of two new nuclear reactors in Georgia at Plant Vogtle. Specifically, $3.46 billion for Georgia Power Company (subsidiary of the Southern Company), $3.06 billion for Oglethorpe Power Corporation, and $1.81 billion for the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG).

The battle to find out more information about these loan guarantees, especially the risks posed to taxpayers, was first pursued by SACE back in March of 2010, through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Unfortunately that was only the first of ten FOIA requests submitted over several years to the DOE, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Treasury, which would all be met with resistance or ignored.

While SACE, a member of the public, was kept in the dark, DOE continued to negotiate with the Southern Company behind the scenes, but struggled for years to reach an agreement on what the credit subsidy costs associated with the loan guarantees should be. The credit subsidy cost is a fee paid by the entity receiving a loan guarantee in order to cover the estimated cost to the Government of supplying the guarantee. It is based on an estimate of the amount of money that would be needed by the Government to cover any “defaults and delinquencies, interest subsidies, and other requirements,” as well as “origination and other fees, penalties, and recoveries.” If the credit subsidy fee paid by the entity isn’t enough to cover the costs of default, taxpayers shoulder the risk. Essentially, the Government will take from taxpayers the money it needs to make up what it lost as a result of the default. Read more…

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Climate Knoxville Brings People Together to Support Climate Action

This post was written by SACE Communications Intern, Taylor Lyon, and SACE Communications Coordinator, Jeannie McKinney.

On July 12, a coalition of environmental, social justice and faith-based groups gathered at the Climate Knoxville Action event in Market Square to show strong support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change impacts. These groups also joined together to advocate for Knoxville’s Smarter Cities Partnership — an initiative to improve the city’s sustainability through cost-effective energy efficiency efforts, including a program to weatherize inner-city homes and reduce the burden of high utility bills on low-income residents. Over 100 people came out to learn more about these efforts and to show their support for a cleaner, greener Knoxville. Read more…

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Coal Ash Stories Come to Washington

This guest post is written by Jared Saylor, Earthjustice Campaign director, and was originally published on Earthjustice’s blog on July 8, 2014. You can access the original post here

The aftermath of the devastating Kingston coal ash spill of 2008.

On July 8th, it was standing room only in a stately meeting room in the U.S. Capitol building as Senate staffers and a group of citizens gathered for a briefing about the hazards of toxic coal ash waste. Earthjustice and the Sierra Club organized the briefing in an effort to educate elected officials and their staff on the importance of keeping off the Senate floor any legislation that would prevent the EPA from regulating this toxic waste.

We’ve been here before. No fewer than six times over the last four years have House and Senate members tried to subvert EPA regulations on coal ash. Time and again, they’ve introduced standalone legislation or added riders to unrelated bills that would prevent the EPA from ever regulating coal ash. In 2010 the agency proposed the first-ever rules that would protect communities near these sites; they have languished since. It took a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of 10 local and national public health and environmental groups and one Native American tribe to force the EPA to set a deadline of Dec. 19 to finalize these rules. Today’s briefing was an opportunity to let the Senate know that they should not allow any effort to stop this important public health move.

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Southeastern U.S. Jealous of Brazil’s Solar-Powered Sports

Mineirão Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

This post was written by SACE Communications Intern, Taylor Lyon.

Watching the 2014 World Cup makes us wonder: Would solar sports arenas work here too?

On June 14th, the first ever World Cup match powered by solar energy was played. The 2014 World Cup is more than an exhibition of premier soccer; it’s an exhibition of premier solar energy, too. The world is being shown a blueprint of how to invest in low or zero-emission technologies. Accordingly, the United States, with our substantial sports culture, should be enthusiastic to jump on board with this innovative idea. Our Southeast region in particular has yet to take advantage of solar-powered sports, and should take a close look  and evaluate the benefits installing solar on our stadiums. Read more…

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Our View: Coal Ash Cleanup Bill Far Short of Our Needs

This guest post originally appeared in the Fayetteville Observer’s Opinion Editorials on July 5, 2014. You can access the original piece here. The North Carolina General Assembly is working quickly to pass the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, which has been further weakened by the House and fails to protect North Carolina communities and waterways from toxic coal ash. Contact your elected officials today and ask them to improve this bill by at least restoring it to the version passed by the NC Senate.

The bill fails to guarantee clean up of 10 polluting and dangerous coal ash sites across the state, like this one at Duke's Buck Steam Station. For years, these sites have been contaminating groundwater with dangerously high concentrations of toxic substances. Neighbors of the Buck and other coal ash dumpsites have suffered rare and unexplained illnesses, causing them to wonder if coal ash is harming their health.

They’re not serious. It’s hard to come to any other conclusion. If the General Assembly really wanted to eliminate the threat posed by Duke Energy’s coal-ash storage ponds, it would have ordered an assessment of all 33 of the ponds and come up with specific instructions for the cleanup.

Instead, lawmakers made cleanup mandatory for only four of them (all curiously close to the homes of powerful legislators) and left the details for the other 29 to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Duke Energy – whose relationship over the years has been altogether too cordial.

In an extended clash on the House floor Wednesday night, this region’s lawmakers fought to add the ponds at Duke’s shuttered Cape Fear plant, where nearly a billion gallons of coal-ash and contaminated water are held by embankments that inspectors have rated in poor condition. A few months ago, the watchdog Waterkeepers Alliance discovered Duke had released more than 60 million gallons of that water into the Cape Fear. That’s more than was spilled into the Dan River in February, in the event that triggered the drive for a cleanup.

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Supreme Court Decision Leaves Permit Requirement for Large Polluters in Place

This guest post originally appeared on the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate 411 blog and was written by EDF Senior attorneys Pamela Campos and Peter Zalzal.  You can access the original post here

[On June 23] the Supreme Court issued a 7-to-2 decision confirming that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may continue to require large industrial sources of climate pollution to use the best available control technology when building or rebuilding plants.  A 5-to-4 majority also determined that such pre-construction permits would not be required for the many smaller sources that EPA had concluded would pose significant administrative problems.

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Nuclear Giant Exelon Blasts Wind

Exelon's Christopher Crane wants Congress to kill a wind tax break, despite the fact the nuclear industry wouldn't be viable today without decades of federal subsidies.

This guest post was authored by Elliott Negin, Director of News & Commentary, at the Union of Concerned Scientists. It was originally published here

Corporate executives often tout the benefits of competition in a free-market economic system, but it’s striking just how much large corporations don’t like it. In fact, some companies will do all they can to squash it, lobbying for favors and subsidies while working to deny them to their competitors.

The squabble over a key federal tax break for the wind industry is a case in point. Called the production tax credit (PTC), it has helped quadruple the wind industry’s generation capacity over the last five years, and six states now have enough wind turbines to meet more than 15 percent of their annual demand.

Unlike most coal, nuclear, and oil and gas subsidies, the PTC — which has been around only since the mid-1990s — is not permanent. Congress has to renew it periodically. Last December, Congress let it expire yet again, and lawmakers likely will not restore it until after the November mid-term elections, if at all. The PTC represents roughly $1.2 billion in annual tax savings to the wind industry.

Wind’s more-established competitors want the PTC dead. Read more…

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