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Historic News: Alexandria Coal-Fired Power Plant to Close

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This just in from Alexandria:
The City of Alexandria and GenOn Energy have reached an agreement to permanently close the company's Potomac River Generating Station, which began operating in 1949.  To facilitate the retirement of the plant, the City of Alexandria will release approximately $32 million currently held in escrow, which was set aside to pay for the additional environmental controls at the station as a result of a 2008 agreement between the City and GenOn.

"Today announcement is a path forward for both Alexandria and the power company that works for everybody, and truly reflects the interest of both parties," said Alexandria's Mayor William D. Euille.  "Both the Alexandria City Council and community have worked extremely hard toward this goal, and we are very proud of the final result.  This news strengthens Alexandria's future and opens the door to an enhanced quality of life for our residents."

Under the terms of the agreement, GenOn has agreed to retire the generating station by October 1, 2012, or, if the plant is needed beyond that date for reliability purposes, as soon as it is no longer needed.

The news comes in the wake of a report that the polluting plant isn't necessary to meet the area's energy needs.

Considering how long Alexandria public health and environmental advocates have been fighting to close this dirty coal-fired power plant, this is a historic victory. Congratulations to Rep. Jim Moran, Mayor Euille, the Alexandria City Council, and all the activists who've stuck with this fight!

UPDATE: Read the statement from Rep. Moran reacting to the closing in comments.

Should Coal-Fired Pollution Get a Tobacco-Style Warning Label?

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Ohio Valley VistaJust the particle pollution from coal-fired power plants kills 13,000 Americans each year through heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, birth defects & premature death, according to the American Lung Association. That number doesn't even consider threats from other pollutants like arsenic & mercury or the dangers of coal mining.

And carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants is a prime driver of global warming, which is fueling more climate-connected extreme weather events that have helped turn 2011 into the Year of the Natural Disaster.

All that leads Tom Toles to ask in today's Washington Post: Cigarettes come with warning labels - why not coal-fired power plants?

Polluting Your Brain: Science Deniers Say Mercury’s Just Dandy

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MercuryFamed science deniers Willie Soon and Paul Driessen, both of whom have worked for groups that accept cash from Exxon Mobil to pretend global warming isn't happening, have a new crusade: Mercury denial!

That's right: They have an op-ed in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal claiming that breathing toxic mercury isn't bad for you.

Willie Soon, astronomer. And Paul Driessen, lobbyist with a degree in geology. Expertise in public health? Limited. Willingness to take cash from the coal polluters that pump tons of mercury into our air every year? Extensive.

What's that? You want to know what actual medical researchers have to say about the subject? Fine, have it your way:

TVA Moves Away From Dirty Power As Coal’s Long Sunset Continues

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I wrote last year about how, by helping kill clean energy & climate legislation, politicians claiming to be on coal's side were actually helping accelerate coal's inevitable decline. Without a Congressional mandate to pretend "clean" coal is real and massive subsidies for technology research, coal wouldn't be able to compete against natural gas, solar and wind power.

States like Colorado have already begun shuttering coal plants and moving to cleaner energy sources. Dominion Virginia Power is switching coal plants to natural gas & biomass. And now the Tennessee Valley Authority is announcing plans to phase out 18 units at three dirty, coal-fired power plants and install modern pollution controls on three dozen additional units:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a settlement with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to resolve alleged Clean Air Act violations at 11 of its coal-fired plants in Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The settlement will require TVA to invest a TVA estimated $3 to $5 billion on new and upgraded state-of-the-art pollution controls that will prevent approximately 1,200 to 3,000 premature deaths, 2,000 heart attacks and 21,000 cases of asthma attacks each year, resulting in up to $27 billion in annual health benefits. TVA will also invest $350 million on clean energy projects that will reduce pollution, save energy and protect public health and the environment.

"This agreement will save lives and prevent billions of dollars in health costs. Modernizing these plants and encouraging clean energy innovation means better health protections and greater economic opportunities for the people living near TVA facilities," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "Investments in pollution control equipment will keep hundreds of thousands of tons of harmful pollutants out of the air we breathe, and help create green job opportunities that will reduce pollution and improve energy efficiency."

But coal state politicians continue to insist all is well. Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston (WV) Gazette's Coal Tattoo blog has a must-read post on West Virginia politicians denying the reality of coal's decline:

Will GOP Shut Down Government Over Mountaintop Removal Mining?

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We already knew House Republican leadership might be willing to shut down the government to de-fund family planning & block enforcement of the Clean Air Act. But in a surprise turn, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) now says it looks like the GOP might be willing to furlough nearly a million federal workers to keep blowing up mountains:
"Curiously enough, mountaintop mining was put on the table late in the game. Who knew that was going to lead to the shutdown of the federal government?" Conrad said on CNN.
The move comes on the same week that over 150 citizens with the Alliance for Appalachia converged on Capitol Hill for the Week in Washington to end mountaintop removal:
Mountaintop removal mining relies on heavy explosives to blast off several hundred feet of mountain to expose coal seams, and has impacted over 500 mountains in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee to date. According to the EPA, the practice has also buried or destroyed more than 2,000 miles of streams in those states.

Residents who live in proximity to mountaintop removal mine sites complain of orange and black tap water flowing from their faucets, breathing in coal dust floating in the air outside their homes and higher-than-normal cancer rates.

"If we are serious about moving America toward a clean energy future, banning mountaintop removal must be the first step," says Jane Branham of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. "For our economy, for our health, and for our heritage-we need this administration and this Congress to act."

Watch my interview with Matt Wasson of Appalachian Voices:

New Coal Plants Fall Far Short On Job Promises

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A new study by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies finds communities that accept new coal-fired power plants are getting burned on promises of jobs:
"I think the overarching issue here is that for a lot of the communities that are being asked to host these plants, there's an extremely difficult cost-benefit analysis that they're being asked to make," said David Eichenthal, the president of the Ochs Center. "They are aware of the environmental and health issues that you take on when you have a coal plant put in your backyard. But many of these communities are in dire economic straits, and it tips the balance for them to allow this to occur."

"But what they're being promised," he said, "isn't what's being delivered."

The analysis looked at the six largest new coal-fired power plants to come online between 2005 and 2009, including facilities in Pottawattamie County, Iowa; Milam and Robertson Counties, Tex.; Otoe County, Neb.; Berkeley County, S.C.; and Marathon County, Wisc. All were plants exceeding capacity of 500 megawatts. [...]

The results: only a little over half, or 56 percent of every 1,000 jobs projected, appeared to be actually created as a result of the coal plants' coming online. And in four of the six counties, the projects delivered on just over a quarter of the jobs projected.

What do new coal-fired power plants deliver 100% of? Their admitted emissions. Virginia's new coal-fired power plant in Wise County is projected to emit 4.8 million tons of carbon dioxide, 4,132 tons of carbon monoxide, 604 tons of sulfur dioxide, 1,920 tons of nitrogen oxides, 329 tons of particulate matter, 139 tons of volatile organic compounds, and 5 pounds of mercury. Every single year it's in operation.

Photo via Flickr's Wigwam Jones

Insignificant Nuclear Risk: Terrifying! Guaranteed Widespread Coal Deaths: Yawn.

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Power PlantEven though "multiple monitoring systems across the Commonwealth continue to show no levels of public health concern," the Virginia Department of Health is warning residents to avoid drinking rainwater collected in cisterns.

You have to wonder: If insignificant health risks posed by a distant nuclear disaster are worth a health update, why isn't VDOH giving constant updates on the known devastating effects of coal?

Mercury contamination is so widespread that one out of every six pregnant women have mercury levels in their blood high enough for levels in the fetus to reach or surpass the EPA's safety threshold for mercury.

According to the latest government data, this means that 630,000 children are born each year with a strong chance of developing serious mercury-related health effects.

According to the American Lung Association, 24,000 people a year die prematurely because of pollution from coal-fired power plants. And every year 38,000 heart attacks, 12,000 hospital admissions and an additional 550,000 asthma attacks result from power plant pollution.

Now that's truly terrifying. Dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people may be killed in rare nuclear disasters (to say nothing of the risks posed by uranium mining). But coal kills tens of thousands of people every year by design.

Unfortunately, the risks we've known & lived with for years aren't nearly as good at scaring up ratings as the new & unknown ones. Isn't that right, Nancy Grace?

A “Dear Joe” Letter to Sen. Manchin on Coal

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Appalachia Rising: More than 100 Arrested at White House Demanding End to Mountaintop RemovalJW Randolph of Appalachian Voices has a message for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) - "Arch Coal has a plan, and it is not you":
Well, I'm not sure how it happened. But it seems like southern West Virginia has survived its first post-apocalyptic, economy-annihilating, way-of-life-ending weekend after EPA heroically vetoed Arch Coal's Spruce Mine permit last Thursday. As bad as Joe Manchin and Nick Rahall said life was going to be after the veto, myself and most folks in West Virginia ended up having a pretty decent weekend, all things considered. Heck, we even learned that despite the snow many if not most nearby residents are celebrating EPA's veto of Spruce #1 mine.

Which leads me to wonder...has anyone ever been so loud and proud about shoving their head in the sand and ignoring the cries of their constituents and colleagues, the consensus of scientists, and the pleading of health professionals as loudly as Joe Manchin and Nick Rahall? Senator Manchin certainly hasn't had a very positive first few weeks in the United States Senate. In fact, despite not taking too many big votes, he has found that his actions have already left him with a lot to apologize for. He set another high bar last week when EPA announced its decision on Spruce. Not only was his rhetoric irresponsible, but his information is just plain incorrect - particularly in asserting that EPA was "retroactively" vetoing this permit.

The whole post is long but definitely worth reading.

What Energy Sources Do Your Tax Dollars Subsidize?

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Republicans squawk about incentives for renewable energy because those are new & need approval, while dirty energy sources locked in their subsidies long ago - like, say, the tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks Virginia gives to dirty coal companies every year. Why not eliminate all subsidies & put a simple price on carbon pollution? That's what dirty energy companies (and the politicians they fund) are terrified of.

Graphic via Good.is

“The Dark Lord of Coal Country” to Retire; the Damage He...

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Cross posted from Scaling Green, a project of the people at Tigercomm. Note: I am now consulting for Tigercomm, located in Rosslyn, VA, and helping "cleantech companies, advocacy organizations and government leaders" to "tackle the big, high-stakes challenges they face in promoting clean energy and sustainability." I'm excited to be working with Tigercomm, which has also done work for Virginia Democratic political campaigns like Steve Shannon's in 2009. Check them out!

Late last week came word that Don Blankenship CEO of Massey Energy, the largest coal producer in central Appalachia - will retire at the end of this year. You may recall that Massey owns the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, where 29 miners were killed back in April, the worst coal mining accident in the United States since 1970.  The Upper Big Branch disaster was far from an isolated incident.  In fact, Massey has a long history of environmental and worker safety violations going back many years. In the aftermath of the Upper Big Branch disaster, one of Massey Energy's largest shareholders called on Blankenship to resign immediately, citing the company's "cavalier attitude toward risk and callous disregard for the safety of its employees has exacted a horrible cost on dozens of hard-working miners and their loved ones."

That would all be bad enough, but unfortunately there's much, much more.  In this video, for instance, listen as Blankenship declares, "I don't believe climate change is real."  Then there's the current Rolling Stone magazine's brutal expose on Blankenship, which calls Blankenship "The Dark Lord of Coal Country" for having "destroyed the region's mountains, polluted its waters and overseen the worst mining disaster in 40 years." According to Rolling Stone, Blankenship "is a rich hillbilly who believes that God put coal in the ground so that he could mine it, and anyone - or any law - that stands in his way needs to be beaten down, bought off or tied up in court."