On the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash disaster
This is not our normal fare, but I would like to ask each of you to learn more about the environmental mess happening in East Tennessee as a result of a lack of regulation, lack of response, and lack of people who give a s**t about what happens to the environment and the people near my home. And it is a health issue, in that the erroneously released waste has already been confirmed to contain lead and thallium. Officials are claiming the levels of mercury and arsenic are acceptable, but I can fit in one pocket how much I trust those “officials.” Harumph.
If you don’t already know, my previous job before being sucked into libraryland was as a non-profit in East Tennessee working on energy policy. You can see my old boss in this video. At the time I worked there, this happened (a coal sludge impoundment broke, and “The water supply for over 27,000 residents was contaminated, and all aquatic life in Coldwater Fork and Wolf Creek was killed.”). At the time, people asked if similar ponds around the country were disasters waiting to happen. This, I think, is bigger than that, and later.
The basics: We burn coal for most (70%ish) of our electricity in Tennessee. Turn on a light switch, and you’re burning coal, and some of the resulting waste – coal fly ash – is stored in a pond. Not like a swimming pool with concrete and real barriers that you’re probably picturing, but some earthen pool nonsense. It has a history of issues. It breaks, over Christmas. Something like a billion gallons of waste, strong enough to push a house off its foundation. More waste than the Exxon Valdez, but it’s in East Tennessee. People nationwide barely hear about it. Here, go read more.
Look, it’s not like they didn’t know this could happen. It’s happened before. Just watching the days of spin – “Boil Your Water Even Though You Can’t Boil Away Heavy Metals” Day, “Isolated Incident” Day, and now “Detain (But Don’t Arrest Because Arrested People Have Rights) People Trying to Document This Disaster” Day – it’s utterly predictable because we’ve seen this before. It’s not the least bit surprising, because it’s TVA, and it’s Tennessee, and as Aunt B says, “We should just change our state motto to ‘Unless it’s gay, we’ll tolerate it, even if it kills us.'” Quick, somebody convince Stacey Campfield that coal ash sludge will make you gay.
And a word for Barack Obama – there is no such thing as “clean coal.” Coal, like oil, is a relatively finite resource that releases pollutants when used for energy. We blow the tops off of mountains and irreversibly wreck the local environment, or we send men underground to die. We try to reduce emissions we know are toxic, and end up with ponds of contaminated ash water that nobody bothers to regulate as a hazardous substance. When we worry about asthma, when we worry about the mercury consumed by children and pregnant women, we are worried about burning coal (or would be, if we knew enough). Clean coal is a myth.
Anyway, the real point of this post is to point you to places and people covering this mess.
RoaneViews – Progressive blog network that is local to the disaster. Excellent coverage.
Kingston Fossil Plant fly ash spill – Wikipedia entry with frequent additions
Real-time Twitter results for #coalash
Image gallery from the News-Sentinel (Knoxville paper). Keep in mind that while it looks like water, it certainly isn’t just water.
Newscoma has some questions. And gives the mainstream media the “asshat/wanker award for the month.” – “Yeah, yeah, I know it’s just Tennessee but it’s still an environmental disaster in this country. You know, the United States of America where we all live. Do you guys think we just have Elvis’ ghost and Dolly Parton here in Tennesse? Sheesh.“
Knoxville News-Sentinel link round-up of local coverage