Tag Archives: clean coal

Proposed EPA Regulation could force Cleaner Energy and Protect Health

In a world and nation where water and energy are two things our growing population is starving for, an issue that combines both is of the utmost importance. This is why I’d love to inform you about a recent regulation proposed by the EPA that would place limits on the amount and type of toxic metals and other pollutants that can be discharged by steam electric power plants (coal, oil, and natural gas) into our waterways. These regulations, dubbed Effluent Limitation Guidelines, will have the greatest effect on coal plants so I will address it as pertaining to coal henceforward.

Toxic waste discharged from power plant

Toxic waste discharged from a coal plant

This bill is extremely important in guiding the future state of human and environmental health as well as the phasing into cleaner sources of energy. It is going to be implemented but what has yet to be decided is which option out of four will be chosen to be implemented. “The four options are based on varying levels of treatment for seven different waste streams generated by the plants and differ in the stringency of the treatment controls to be imposed” said the congressional research service. There are allegations being made that the White House Office of Management and Budget is attempting to weaken the proposed standards in response to coal industry demands. The coal industry will obviously be fighting for the least strict regulations, which brings in the underdog, “we the people”, to stand up for more regulated water pollution.

I will now make a claim as to why it is so important that the strongest regulation (option 4 out of 4), which will reduce annual pollutant discharge by 2.62 billion pounds and reduce annual water usage by 103 billion pounds, needs to be implemented.

These regulations need to be in the strongest form possible because, as a study conducted  in North Carolina by Duke University revealed, coal plants have implemented scrubbers and other technologies to reduce the amount of toxic air pollution (coinciding with the Clean Air Act) but those pollutants are just ending up in the waste water that the coal plants produce, defeating the purpose of the “CLEAN” Air Act. The study also uncovered other disturbing information: the highest concentration of contaminants were found in a waste water pond that was being directly released into a primary drinking water source for Charlotte, North Carolina. After testing the water, the scientists found a couple of areas that exceeded the EPA guidelines for safe drinking water and aquatic life. These unhealthy levels were also found in two popular recreational lakes in the northern part of the state. This is just 1 example.

Why doesn’t the Clean Water Act regulate this water pollution problem?

For one, existing guidelines that limit the pollutants emitted into the water by coal plants have not been updated in over 30 years. Also, many regulators have said the Clean Water Act is inadequate because is does not mandate limits on the most dangerous chemicals in power plant waste and it is also claimed to have loopholes that the energy industry takes advantage of. In addition to that, 90% of 313 coal plants that have violated the Clean Water Act since 2004 were not fined or penalized by federal or state regulators, according to a New York Times Analysis of EPA records.

There is countless information that supports the need for this nation-wide water pollution regulation in its strongest form, so I proceed… Here is a link to fish consumption advisories in Texas due to water pollution. All the water bodies surrounding my hometown, including some I have previously caught fish in (and eaten), are polluted with the following advisory given for a couple: “Persons should not consume any species of fish from these waters”.  Although coal plants cannot be solely blamed for this (as it is hard to trace back pollution), they are definitely a large contributing factor. Some other unfortunate statistics found in a report produced by a coalition of environmental and clean water groups: “Of the 274 coal plants that discharge coal ash and scrubber waste water into waterways, nearly 70% (188), have no limits on the amount of toxic metals like arsenic, mercury, boron, cadmium, and selenium they are allowed to dump into public waters.” When you consider this pollution which produces horrible health effects such as reduced growth and development, cancer, organ damage, nervous system damage, and death, one begins to hope that policy decisions regarding this pollution are really going to be made on our behalf.

I digress from the smorgasbord of depressing health and environmental data on this pollution and focus on what this bill will do. It will:

1.  Set national standards that limit the amount of toxic chemicals discharged into our waterways by coal plants and is based upon technological improvements in the industry over the last 30 years.

2. Require coal plants to monitor and report the amount of pollution dumped into our waterways. (We deserve to know this!)

The strongest proposal is common-sense, affordable, and is already being used by some coal plants. This regulation will force coal companies to internalize the cost of pollution, justly relieving that burden from the health of our communities and precious water sources. If you feel strongly about this issue, make your voice heard! It will take a strong force to overcome the corporate interests that are going to fight their hardest for the lowest regulation for what they can dump into our waters.

Things you can do:

1. Make a meeting with your Senator or Representative to let them know you support the strongest regulations

2. Write a Letter to the Editor and submit it to your local newspaper

3. Educate your friends!

More information on the bill can be found here

No Stamford Water for Proposed Tenaska Coal Plant

West Texas Doesn’t Have Enough Water to Sell to a Coal Plant

Hydrological Report Shows: Stamford Must Not Sell its Water for Proposed Tenaska Coal Plant

A water report released today by Sierra Club and citizens of the west Texas cities of Stamford, Sweetwater, and Abilene concludes that if a water contract is granted to the proposed Tenaska coal-fired power plant, it would severely diminish water supplies where current water demands are significantly unmet by the available supply.  The report by Glenrose Engineering, “Lack of Water Availability from City of Stamford for the Proposed Tenaska Coal-Fired Power Plant,” finds that operations of the proposed Tenaska coal plant, if contracted, would require a consistent water supply even during drought conditions and would cut deeply into the available water supply, displacing existing water users.

“The financial temptations are strong for communities who are suffering economically,” said Dr. Jeff Haseltine, a professor at Abilene Christian University.  “But while Tenaska can make it rain money, Tenaska can’t make it rain rain.” 

The past two years the proposed Tenaska coal plant has been negotiating behind closed doors with the City of Stamford for a water contract that could lock in water withdrawals from the City’s water supply, Lake Stamford, for up to 30 years.

“The bottom line is that we are facing one of the worst droughts on record in the state of Texas, and west Texas is seeing the worst of it,” said Eva Hernandez with the Sierra Club in Texas.  “There is no telling when it will rain and the drought will let up.  Giving water to an unnecessary coal plant would be irresponsible, especially when the energy from the coal plant is not even needed in the state.[1]

 According to the hydrological study released today:

  • Existing permits for Lake Stamford are already more than double the one-year safe reservoir yield.
  • The City of Stamford wastewater effluent volume is about one quarter of the proposed power plant demand.
  • Increasing lake withdrawals to meet power plant water demands could increase water treatment costs for existing City of Stamford potable water customers during critical drought conditions.
  • It would leave less water in the reservoir to meet existing unmet water demands in Haskell County for agricultural irrigation.

Eric Herm, West Texas farmer and author warns, “There is no substitute for water.  No alternative. Money and its false promise comes and goes without fulfilling our lives or nourishing our bodies. Without the coal plant, we still survive. Without water, we do not. We have to be extremely careful with our remaining water supply, particularly in our arid climate. Corporations like big coal companies could care less about the long-term effects of sucking dry our aquifers sooner than later. They’ll move on to the next town or area. For those of us who call West Texas home, it is our duty to protect our water supply from negligent use — no matter how much money they promise.” 

An earlier analysis of wastewater effluent, ground and surface water availability in Nolan County concluded that existing water demands in that county also could not be met with available water supplies and also recommends against selling Nolan County’s water to the proposed Tenaska coal plant.

Yes!  Its a footnote in a blog post.  [1] The state’s electricity grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) stated in its May 2011 Report on the Capacity, Demand, and Reserves in the ERCOT Region that the supply of energy is outpacing demand and concludes Texas has additional energy reserves – a 21% cushion when the requirement is 13%.

For more information, contact:  Eva Hernandez, Sierra Club, 512-299-1550, Dr. Jeff Haseltine, Abilenians Against Tenaska, 325-280-3669, Whitney Root, Texans Against Tenaska 325-455-5652

Do you see the clean coal yet?

Do ya? Huh? Do ya punk?

There’s No Such Thing as Clean Coal

The costs of coal are rising as the American public insists on cleaning up the mess and ending the causes of global warming.  Burning coal for electricity is dirty dirty dirty from the cradle to the grave.   That includes coal ash waste which will be the subject of Ms. Flavia’s live blogging  (see her Tweets over there on the leftside  of the Texas Green Report all day today from Sierra Club’s rally at the Dallas EPA hearing where our new Executive Director Michael Brune will attend an 11:00 am press conference at the Hyatt Regency where the hearings are being held.  The public is invited.

On this early morning post from Austin, I’m refuting the notion of clean coal after yesterday’s DOE announcement.  Remember.  That’s not free money, folks.   We’ll pay in hospital bills, early death funeral charges, and superfund site cleanups.  That’s not free money.  Its dumb money.

Coal mining is dirty, dangerous, and scars the landscape

Every kind of coal mining scars the landscape.  Mountain-top removal is the worst case example.  In Texas, we get our coal from the Powder River Country of Wyoming where the landscape is also scarred.    In Texas, we also mine lignite a form of coal found in east Texas which is the dirty dirty dirtiest form of coal fuel to burn.  Its like wet shotgun pellets and harder to scrub in the burning process.  

Dirty, deadly Diesel Train Pollution

We ship coal on dirty dirty dirty diesel trains all the way across several state lines in a hundred train cars full of coal per coal plant per day. That’s terribly energy inefficient!  All along the way there’s dirty deadly diesel pollution and the coal itself casts off heavy metal pollution. 

Emissions from burning Coal for electricity

When we burn coal at our 20 existing coal plants in Texas, they emit hundred of thousands of tons of pollution into our air every single day.  Its like we’re in a huge gas chamber and that’s no joke.  The nitrogen oxide from coal plants causes ground level ozone smog which causes respiratory disease, heart disease, and early mortality.  Coal plants also pump sulfur dioxide, pariculate matter, mercury, and carbon dioxide into our air.  That’s nasty stuff.  Carbon dioxide is the principal global warming gas and coal plants are the major industrial source of that stuff.  Texas is number one in the nation for both carbon dioxide and mercury.  Let’s talk about mercury.  Mercury is a dirty dirty dirty neurotoxin that affects the brains of fetuses in development and young children when its ingested by the mom or kids eating fish from Texas recreational lakes where a lot of good Texans fish and a lot of mercury from coal plants fall.  Mercury ingestion causes developmental delays and other brain disorders. 

Prolonging an unhealthy Addiction

 So called ‘clean’ coal technology would not clean up many of these pollutants but rather claims to sequester the carbon dioxide.  Sequestration of gases underground, while its been used in the oil and gas industry is not proven effective or safe.  Jeff Goodell who wrote Big Coal was soft on carbon sequestration in his book and has since realized that it is not safe or proven effective. 

Coal Ash Waste

Finally, there’s the coal ash waste that, in Texas is stored in waste ash ponds near the coal plants, dumped in the abandoned parts of lignite mines — unlined pits where it leeches especially with heavy rains like we’re experiencing in Texas this week right down down down into the water table to comingle with the stuff people drink from their water wells.  Its full of arsenic and the only safe level of arsenic in drinking water is zero. 

Clean energy future is now — Get with it Texas!

So, from the cradle to the grave of its industsrial cycle, there is no such thing as clean coal and to celebrate putting money into it is like celebrating buying a dying alcoholic a 12 pack a day.  We don’t need new coal and we need to phase out existing coal over the next twenty years.  Don’t think we can do it?  Germany is currently building more solar power in one month than we are in a year.  And look at their skies!  We have far more powerful solar resource and we should be smart and harness the power of the sun for a truly clean energy future.

I want to wish all the people well who are traveling in the rain today to attend the EPA’s coal ash hearing in Dallas.  Tell it like it really is.

Donna Hoffman, Communication Coordinator, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club