More Tricks than Treats from Coal Industry

Guest Blog | October 31, 2012 | Coal, Energy Policy

In case the horror movies and Hurricane/Frankenstorm Sandy weren’t enough to scare you this Halloween season, a glimpse at the horrors that are unleashed due to the operation of coal fired power plants should send chills down your spine.

Recently, Dr. Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke University, released a terrifying peer-reviewed study of the effects of coal ash on North Carolina’s water resources. Dr. Vengosh’s study found frighteningly high levels of arsenic, selenium and other toxic contaminants in coal ash residue and wastewater discharges from North Carolina coal plants.

These toxic contaminants are finding their way into the water and sediments of lakes and rivers that are downstream from these precarious coal ash ponds.  The study found arsenic levels in lake sediments that were 25 times higher than EPA safe drinking water standards and double EPA standards for aquatic life.  Such high arsenic levels can lead to deformities in aquatic life and deadly effects to human health– that’s some scary stuff!  Selenium levels discovered in the study were even more frightful; North Carolina coal ash wastewater had selenium levels 4 times higher than EPA drinking water and 17 times higher than standards safe for aquatic life.  Selenium is highly toxic to aquatic life, causing deformities and other growth abnormalities. Holy Frankenfish!

Like something out of a bad horror story plot, the United States Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is entertaining the idea of using toxic coal ash to fill in active and abandoned mine sites.  Residents of Pennsylvania, where the amendment allowing coal ash to be used as a filling agent is being proposed, are terrified that the coal ash will find its way into their drinking wells and surface water.  Allowing coal ash to be used as a filler in unlined mines is akin to allowing The Blob to roam the streets at night, claiming innocent victims at will.  As the residents of North Carolina can testify, coal ash contamination is a nightmarish boogeyman that will keep you awake at night.

Coal also appears to have a lot in common with a zombie – the thing that won’t die! Coal usage is actually back on the upswing after reaching a low of 32% of electricity production in April,2012 due to a slow, but steady increase in the price of natural gas since April, 2012.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that coal will remain America’s dominant power source through 2035.  When you think about the myriad of harmful effects from coal plants, the specter of continued dependence on coal as a primary source of America’s electric generation is bone-chilling!

Finally, if the election antics haven’t already evoked several blood curdling screams out of you, then you haven’t been paying attention to the pro-coal campaigns launched to battle the Obama Administration’s alleged “War on Coal.”  The pro-coal lobby continues to de-emphasize the positive effects of more regulation of coal production and use (i.e. healthy ecosystems, fewer premature deaths caused by carcinogens released by coal plants, fewer cases of asthma in children, fewer cases of mercury poisoning, fewer super-storms and other destructive effects of climate change, etc., etc.) and instead, have shifted their focus on the short term, negative effects of coal regulation (i.e. job loss as a result of coal plants and mines closing).  Unfortunately, the pro-coal voice is a loud one (banshee-level loud) and this election campaign, that voice has been taking to airwaves and rallies to try and ensure that the coal strangle-hold will only get tighter as the years progress.

Although Halloween is heavy on instilling fear, I thought it only best to end this blog with a Halloween treat.  South Carolina’s state owned power company, Santee Cooper, announced that it would be closing two coal fired plants, rather than investing in the pollution controls necessary to bring it in compliance with stricter environmental standards.  With this decision, Santee Cooper has formally committed itself to closing its Jefferies plant in Moncks Corner and the Grainger plant in Conway.  So, barring any “Night of the Living Dead” scenario, these plants are now dead in the water  – making the Southeast a few steps closer to cleaning up its practice of burning dirty coal so that you can bake pumpkin seeds and other ghoulish treats!  Be safe out there and enjoy the spooks.

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