SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
1. Latest On Dan River Coal Ash Disaster
When energy and water collide
On Sunday, February 2, 2014 history repeated itself when yet another antiquated coal ash dump failed at Duke Energy’s retired Dan River coal-fired power plant. The massive spill started when a storm-water pipe under the coal ash impoundments near Eden, North Carolina broke, pouring toxic waste into the Dan River that flows into Virginia. Over six days an estimated 140,000 tons of coal ash and toxic wastewater poured into the river that provides drinking water to several communities downstream, is a popular recreation destination and home to several threatened and endangered species. Coal ash now coats the riverbed for 70 miles downstream; devastating important aquatic habitat, resulting in damages equivalent to at least $70 million. The impoundment failure is now the nation’s 3rd largest coal ash disaster.
This crisis spurred many surprising developments and brought to light just how poorly protected our waterways and communities are from toxic coal ash pollution (for the latest news, see our archive of news related to the Dan River spill here). From the beginning Duke Energy and the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NC DENR) lagged in adequately warning the public of potential threats and failed to announce the spill at all for 26 hours. NC DENR consistently downplayed potential threats, did not issue any preventative advisories and claimed the river and drinking water supplies were safe before receiving any water quality test results. After initially misreporting their testing results, the agency acknowledged unsafe concentrations of toxics, such as arsenic, in the river and the state finally issued public advisories 10 days after the spill began warning people to not fish from or even touch the Dan River. Along with DENR officials, North Carolina’s Governor Pat McCrory (a former Duke employee of 28 years) has also showed an appalling lack of leadership holding the utility accountable for this disaster and its coal ash pollution at their 14 facilities around the state.
Luckily, our eyebrows aren’t the only ones raised by the apparent coziness of Duke Energy and state officials. National media has begun asking questions about DENR blocking citizen suits to stop pollution at all of Duke’s power plants, alleged conflicts of interest, and the sweetheart deal they proposed just before the spill began consisting of a paltry fine and no definitive action. On February 10, federal officials launched a grand jury investigation for alleged felony activities relating to all of Duke’s NC power plants, issuing subpoenas to the Duke, DENR and individual employees of both entities.
The Dan River spill reminds us that public health and wildlife will be in danger as long as coal ash remains in antiquated, unlined dumps next to waterways. If you haven’t already, join us in calling on elected officials, NC DENR, Duke and EPA to prevent the next spill and remove all old, leaking dumpsites away from the waters we all depend on to dry, lined landfills.
2. Soggy in Sochi
The end of the Winter Olympics as we know it?
Russia pledged that the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi would be the greenest in history, promising green building standards for Olympic facilities and a “zero waste” policy, and even going so far as to suggest that Sochi would be the first carbon neutral Games in history.
Despite these goals, members of the environmental community raised red flags before and during the events. Not only did the carbon reduction goals slip, but local environmental watchdog group Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus reported illegal dumping, widespread deforestation, and disruption of animal migratory routes in what was formerly a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Local residents now face an increased likelihood of natural disasters such as avalanches and mudslides. What’s more, environmental activists speaking out on these issues were jailed.
Important as these local impacts are, the biggest warning sign to come from these Games may be this: climate change and its cascade of impacts may make the Winter Olympics as we know them impossible in the near future. With rising global temperatures, there simply may not be sites suitable for hosting winter sporting events. A recent report by climatologist Daniel Scott concluded that by the end of the century, only 6 of the past 19 Winter Olympic host cities might be reliably cold enough to host the Games.
Sochi’s unseasonably warm temperatures provided a glimpse into what warming winters may look like around the world. Slushy snow on ski slopes and snowboard courses forced athletes to compete in unexpectedly soft and dangerous conditions. Austrian Nordic combined athlete Wilhelm Denifl explained that “[holes] and ruts form if the snow on the landing zone is not hard enough…The snow becomes unstable, and if we are landing consistently in the same area, and at a high speed, the pressure associated with landing can make it unstable. And dangerous.”
Some winter sports athletes have banded together in an organization called Protect Our Winters to demand a global response to climate change. In a recent call to action, US Ski Team member Andrew Newell and 105 other Winter Olympians called on world leaders to “[recognize] climate change by reducing emissions, embracing clean energy and preparing a commitment to a global agreement at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris 2015.” These winter athletes feel the disappearance of snow personally, and recognize that immediate action is needed to prevent even broader global impacts.
Hopefully you found time to enjoy this year’s Winter Games, because they just might become a thing of the past. Just think, the dignity of the Olympic games and the beautiful snowy slopes we’re used to seeing could be replaced by…’mud sports’ and Quidditch for Muggles? As intriguing as that sounds, we should keep the winter in Winter Olympics.
Did you know Southern Alliance for Clean Energy participates in several workplace giving campaigns throughout the Southeast? Whether you work for a large corporation or a small office, donating through your place of employment gives your coworkers and employers the opportunity to play an active role in improving quality of life in their communities and throughout our region. By pledging even a small amount from each paycheck you will be making a great impact on how we produce and consume energy in the Southeast.
SACE is currently a proud member of EarthShare of Georgia, EarthShare of North Carolina, EarthShare of Florida, and Community Shares of Tennessee. Each of these federations has been connecting environmental and community organizations to participating businesses for over twenty years.
Check out the links above to see if your workplace is already connected with these campaigns. If your workplace is not yet involved, we would love to help you start a campaign at your workplace. To find out more information about workplace giving and ways you can get involved, please contact Erin Cameron, Development & Outreach Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org, 828-254-6776 or ask your human resource personnel.
March 11 marks the third anniversary of the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, initiating the devastating and still ongoing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Large releases and spills of radioactive water continue to occur and thousands of people remain evacuated, many never to return home due to long-lasting radioactive contamination.
In January, we reported on the new state secrets law that passed in Japan, penalizing journalists for critical reporting of the disaster. Later in the month, we discussed the impact the disaster is having on elections as well as the global impacts. Major leaks had just occurred before those blog posts and now, just one short month later, a 100-ton leak of highly contaminated water has occurred – described as the worst in the last six months. The water contained high levels of strontium-90, a long-lasting, dangerous radionuclide that has a half-life of nearly 30 years. The utility, TEPCO, is accused of continuing to withhold and cover up critical information.
Here at home, SACE helped our region understand why they should care about the Fukushima disaster by supporting the launch of a compelling new book, Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster, which details the accident. Co-author Dr. Ed Lyman with the Union of Concerned Scientists joined SACE and our partners in Atlanta to kick off the official release with several events and media opportunities, including a well-attended event at the Carter Center Museum and Library.
Advocates are commemorating the anniversary by organizing events to stand in solidarity with the people of Japan. View a complete list of events here, or check out our calendar for events in our region.
Even in the face of this unfolding nuclear disaster in one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, the “nuclear renaissance” here in the U.S. continues to limp along. The Department of Energy (DOE), Southern Company and Oglethorpe Power recently finalized $6.5 billion in taxpayer-financed loan guarantees for the two new Vogtle reactors near Waynesboro, Georgia. SACE continues our pursuit of transparency for this dirty deal, filing our tenth Freedom of Information Act request with the DOE to unearth the significant risks this places on taxpayers.
In Florida, the uprate project at Florida Power & Light’s St. Lucie Unit 2 nuclear reactor, often touted by the utility as a success story for the state’s controversial nuclear tax, is now being called into question. There are indications that the reactor’s new steam generators are experiencing similar wear and degradation of tubes as was seen in the recently shutdown San Onofre nuclear reactors in California. Because of potentially serious safety concerns, SACE is calling for an open and transparent investigation of St. Lucie Unit 2 during the scheduled refueling outage beginning this week in March 2014, urging the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to hold a public meeting and delay restart until a full investigation can be conducted. As Fukushima demonstrated, nuclear power can be an incredibly unforgiving technology. With over one million people living within fifty miles of St. Lucie, safety must come first.