Coal Ash Legal Fight Moves to Florida

On any given day you can find people boating and fishing on the Apalachicola just downstream of the Scholz dumpsites.

With all the news following the Dan River coal ash disaster this February, it may seem that North Carolina is the only Southeastern state with coal ash woes. Unfortunately, there are plenty of problems to go around with at least 450 ash dumpsites scattered across our region. Many of these are aging, unlined, wet storage impoundments located on vital water resources and drinking water supplies, just like those on the Dan River.

To date, little attention has been given to Florida’s coal ash problems, even though it’s home to 78 ash impoundments. That is changing, however, as SACE recently teamed up with our partners at Earthjustice, Waterkeeper Alliance, and the Apalachicola Riverkeeper to investigate the impoundments at Gulf Power’s Scholz Generating Station, located on the banks of the Apalachicola River, which supports a multi-billion dollar seafood industry and one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the country.

Our testing revealed illegal seeps pouring high concentrations of toxic heavy metals into the river, and last week we filed a federal federal lawsuit to stop Gulf’s pollution and protect the Apalachicola. 

The list of metals seeping out of impoundments at Scholz read like a who’s who of the periodic table, including carcinogens like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, selenium, as well as aluminum, barium, beryllium, copper, lead, nickel, zinc, selenium, and the neurotoxin mercury. One of the most shocking samples revealed arsenic levels at as much as 300 times the amount allowed by law for safe drinking water. In addition to posing a threat to human health, all these toxics can cause serious harm to the fish and other wildlife that call the Apalachicola home.

The Apalachicola Bay is one of the nation's most productive fisheries and supplies 12% of the US oyster harvest.

The Apalachicola River is a public asset and national treasure that deserves protection from Gulf’s toxic waste. Over the years taxpayers have spent millions of dollars buying huge tracts of land around the Apalachiocla for watershed protection and 106 miles of the river were recently designated as a national recreation trail. The river supports more than 15,000 species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world and several that are threatened or endangered.

A lack of federal coal ash regulations means that states oversee handling and disposal of America’s second largest industrial waste stream. With it’s porous geology and high water table, Florida is especially vulnerable to pollution from wastes stored in landfills and lagoons–which is why Florida law prohibits any hazardous waste landfills. Unfortunately, a new law passed in 2013 exempting coal ash dumps from this prohibition and the state lacks many basic safeguards like requirements for impoundments to be properly lined, monitored, designed or cited. This lack of regulation also results in a lack of oversight for impoundments at retiring plants, like Scholz, meaning these legacy sites could be left to pollute in perpetuity.

In the absence of comprehensive federal regulations or enforcement of current water protection laws from state environmental agencies, groups like SACE and our allies will continue to turn to the courts to secure protection for our communities and waterways for all to enjoy. Coincidentally, June is National Rivers Month, a great time to get out on your river, volunteer with a local Waterkeeper and speak out for coal ash protections in your community and beyond!

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Citizens in Florida have had to bypass our local and state elected politicians who have consistently ignored our looming ecological problems arising from every corner of Florida, the latest example being the necessity our grassroots citizen-led ballot initiative creating Florida Constitutional Amendment # 1.

This constitutional amendment will go far to protect the safety and purity of our drinking water, the Florida aquifer, our rivers, lakes, fresh water springs and our coastal waters.

On Election Day, next November 4th, we have the opportunity to enforce and install better ecological practices and measures designed to protect our supplies of fresh water and coastal areas.

We also have the opportunity to replace those politicians currently in office who have done nothing to protect our state from corporate polluters and corrupt people who use vast sums of money to buy the votes of most of our current politicians who are in office on the local, state and federal levels. They do not represent the citizens of Florida or work to make this a better state and country. They work only for their own selfish interests.

Time for a wholesale and wholesome change . . . let’s throw the rascals out . . . all of them . . . and start over again with more honest and intelligent elected officials who care about the people who live here and our country’s best interests rather than only themselves.

Bring a friend to the voting polls on November 4th with you who may not otherwise vote and double your immediate impact!

Think of it! If we all just brought one other person to vote we can double the number of people voting and beat the influence of those who try to use money to buy our local, state and federal elections. We have the power through the vote! Believe it; use it and don’t ever let anyone take away your freedom or ability to run this country through our election process.

It may be now corrupt and seem hopeless due to all the dishonest and/or crazy loonies in many of our local, state and federal elective offices, but we can make meaningful positive and productive change by believing in our power of the Vote and using it wisely.

Hope to see you at the Voting Polls this November 4th. It is time for a good change, isn’t it? Bring a friend and make it happen!

Comment by Christopher M. Kennard on June 14, 2014 11:27 am

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