Groups in Court to Stop Groundwater Contamination from Toxic Coal Ash Waste
Conservation groups today went to court in an effort to protect North Carolina communities and groundwater from toxic coal ash contamination at 14 coal-fired power plants across the state. The lawsuit seeks to vindicate a North Carolina law—currently unenforced by the state—that requires industrial polluters to stop groundwater contamination and cleanup at these outdated coal ash ponds.
“Twenty years ago, North Carolina required utilities to take immediate action to stop groundwater contamination from these outdated facilities," said DJ Gerken, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents the groups in today's filing. “Thanks to the state's misapplication of its own laws, we're still waiting for these polluters to stop and clean up known contamination of groundwater from their old industrial operations."
If successful, the lawsuit would require cleanup of groundwater contamination around outdated, unlined coal ash ponds. The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the complaint in Wake County Superior Court on behalf of the Cape Fear River Watch, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance and Western North Carolina Alliance.
Today's lawsuit challenges a December vote by the N.C. Environmental Management Commission to allow Progress Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Carolinas continued and widespread contamination of groundwater with dangerous substances, including arsenic and thallium, without taking action to stop the contamination.
Groundwater monitoring by Progress Energy Carolinas documents persistent contamination in excess of groundwater standards at its Asheville and L. V. Sutton facilities' coal ash ponds, located near the French Broad and Cape Fear rivers upstream from Asheville and Wilmington. Several years of sampling also confirms contamination at 12 other coal-fired plants operated by Progress and Duke across the state. Despite the acknowledged contamination, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has not required the utilities to clean up these sites.
“The fight against toxic coal ash is gaining momentum here in North Carolina and nationwide. This is another step toward our goal of protecting North Carolina families from coal ash contamination," said Kelly Martin, Beyond Coal campaign representative with Sierra Club. “Our health and our water resources are too important to gamble with. The state of North Carolina and Duke Energy need to take action to clean up this toxic contamination now."
Among the coal waste contaminants that exceeded state standards in groundwater at the Asheville plant near the French Broad River and L.V. Sutton plant near the Cape Fear River are thallium and selenium. Thallium is a poison and suspected to cause cancer in people. Additionally, thallium is highly water-soluble and nearly tasteless, making it difficult to detect in groundwater and hard for residents to identify its presence and protect themselves. In high amounts, selenium causes illness and neurological damage in people, even death in extreme cases.
“The practice of dumping toxic coal ash into unlined holes in the ground that pollute our groundwater and rivers needs to stop," said French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson. “The French Broad River is a world class recreation destination, and we no longer want to see it used as a dumping ground for toxic coal ash."
Arsenic levels exceeded state groundwater standards at the Sutton plant on the Cape Fear River. Epidemiological studies have suggested a correlation between chronic consumption of water contaminated with arsenic and the incidence of cancer and many leading causes of death.
“Groundwater monitoring at the Sutton coal ash ponds show arsenic levels 27 times higher than safe groundwater standards, just half a mile from drinking water wells," said Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper. “The risks to public health and the environment will remain until the ponds are cleaned up—we can't wait any longer."
"The N.C. Environmental Management Commission ignored the law and voted to allow Duke and Progress to continue contaminating groundwater with known dangerous chemicals like arsenic and thallium," said Donna Lisenby of Waterkeeper Alliance. "We appealed that unfortunate decision and took our case to a judge today because we believe it's critical to keep fighting for the health of our communities and waterways."
Progress Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Carolinas confirmed contamination from older coal ash waste ponds at 14 of their facilities across the state, including:
• L.V. Sutton Power Station in Wilmington, N.C. near Lake Sutton and the Cape Fear River
• Asheville Power Station in Arden, N.C. near the French Broad River and Lake Julian
• Allen Steam Station in Belmont, N.C. near the Catawba River and Lake Wylie
• Belews Creek Steam Station in Belews Creek, N.C. near the Dan River and Belews Lake
• Buck Steam Station in Spencer, N.C. near the Yadkin River
• Cliffside Steam Station in Mooresboro, N.C. near the Broad River
• Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C. near the Dan River
• Marshall Steam Station in Terrell, N.C. near the Catawba River and Lake Norman
• Riverbend Steam Station in Mount Holly, N.C. near the Catawba River and Mountain Island Lake
• Cape Fear Power Station in Moncure, N.C. near the Cape Fear River
• Lee Power Station in Goldsboro, N.C. near the Neuse River
• Mayo Power Station in Roxboro, N.C. near Mayo Creek, Mayo Reservoir, Crutchfield Creek, and Roanoke Basin
• Roxboro Power Station in Semora, N.C. near the Hyco River, Hyco Lake, and Sargent's Creek
• W.H. Weatherspoon Power Station in Lumberton, N.C. near Jacob Swamp and Lumber River
Coal ash waste ponds came to national attention on Dec. 22, 2008 when a dam burst at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant and spilled coal ash waste slurry through nearby homes and into the Emory River in Tennessee. Today, toxic coal ash waste still remains less regulated than household waste.
By Suzanne Cords
One day Lizzie, the first-person narrator of the novel, receives an old book as a gift, with a dedication wishing the reader to be among the survivors. Like the preppers who build bunkers and stockpile supplies in remote areas to be ready for the end of the world, Lizzie is convinced that the end of the world is definitely near in times of a threatening climate disaster.
Lizzie, who lives in New York with her husband and son, is a university campus librarian. She worries about almost everything: her brother, an ex-junkie, or her dental insurance and the future in the face of the apocalypse. She is obsessed with reading reference books and articles about climate change.
She also devours words of wisdom, including about Buddhist spirituality: "A visitor once asked the old monks on Mount Athos what they did all day, and was told: We have died and we are in love with everything." But nothing can lift her spirits.
'Lizzie Is Just Like Us'
Lizzie observes rich New Yorkers plan their move to regions that are less threatened by climate change, something she simply cannot afford. Sometimes she watches disaster movies, which lead her to worry even more.
Above all, she is a gifted observer of her fellow human beings. "Young person worry: What if nothing I do matters? Old person worry: What if everything I do, does?"
Lizzie, the U.S. author told DW, is a bit like the rest of us — well aware of the climate crisis, but because she cares and worries about so many other things, that awareness falls by the wayside. That's how she felt herself, Jenny Offill said, but the more she looked into the issue, the more she saw a need for action on her part, too.
"I also was trying to see if there was a way to make it funny, because, you know, so much of the world of prepping and imagining disaster is actually sort of strangely funny."
The novel was shortlisted for the 2020 UK's Women's Prize for Fiction and has now been released in German translation.
Climate Activist With a Vision
But then, there is also this serious, scientifically based concern about what climate change means. In the past, says Offill, artists were the ones who would predict disasters; today it's the experts, as well as the students she teaches. In the end, their fears and their justified anger motivated her to take a closer look at the issue. Today, she is a climate activist herself, and is involved in initiatives along with many other artists.
Lizzie, the heroine of Weather, hasn't gotten that far. But she voices her fears, and that's a start. "Of course, the world continues to end," says Sylvia, a mentor of Lizzie's, at one point — and commences to water her garden. There is hope after all.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Jake Johnson
A federal appeals court on Tuesday dealt the final blow to former President Donald Trump's attempt to open nearly 130 million acres of territory in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans to oil and gas drilling.
Though the Trump administration appealed the ruling, President Joe Biden revoked his predecessor's 2017 order shortly after taking office, rendering the court case moot. On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to dismiss the Trump administration's appeal.
"Because the terms of the challenged Executive Order are no longer in effect, the relevant areas of the [Outer Continental Shelf] in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Atlantic Ocean will be withdrawn from exploration and development activities," the court said in its order.
Erik Grafe of Earthjustice, which represented a coalition of advocacy groups that challenged Trump's order, said in a statement that "we welcome today's decision and its confirmation of President Obama's legacy of ocean and climate protection."
"As the Biden administration considers its next steps, it should build on these foundations, end fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters, and embrace a clean energy future that does not come at the expense of wildlife and our natural heritage," Grafe continued. "One obvious place for immediate action is America's Arctic, including the Arctic Refuge and the Western Arctic, which the previous administration sought to relegate to oil development in a series of last-minute decisions that violate bedrock environmental laws."
VICTORY: 9th Circuit ends fight over President Trump's illegal attempt to open up 128 million acres of Atlantic & A… https://t.co/TvYVt2F1jO— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice)1618347073.0
In January, Biden ordered a temporary pause on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters, a decision environmentalists hailed as a positive step that should be made permanent.
"We call on President Biden to keep his promise: a full and complete ban on fracking and fossil fuel extraction on public lands. Full stop," Food & Water Watch policy director Mitch Jones said at the time. "The climate crisis requires it and he promised it."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By 2035, every new car and truck sold in the U.S. could be an EV, a new report says.
Accelerations in technology and especially battery affordability, paired with new policy, mean the dramatic transition would save American drivers $2.7 trillion by 2050, an average savings of $1,000 per household per year.
The ramp up in EV production would also create 2 million new jobs by 2035. Battery prices have fallen 74% since 2014, and their unexpectedly rapid fall is a key driver of the cost savings.
EVs are far simpler mechanically, and more efficient, than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, which translates to reduced climate pollution and lower costs for consumers.
Strengthened vehicle efficiency standards and investment in fast charging infrastructure are needed to accelerate the transition, which would prevent 150,000 premature deaths and save $1.3 trillion in health environmental costs by 2050.
For a deeper dive:
Thousands of Superfund sites exist around the U.S., with toxic substances left open, mismanaged and dumped. Despite the high levels of toxicity at these sites, nearly 21 million people live within a mile of one of them, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Currently, more than 1,300 Superfund sites pose a serious health risk to nearby communities. Based on a new study, residents living close to these sites could also have a shorter life expectancy.
Published in Nature Communications, the study, led by Hanadi S. Rifai, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Houston, and a team of researchers, found that living in nearby zip codes to Superfund sites resulted in a decreased life expectancy of more than two months, the University of Houston reported.
"We have ample evidence that contaminant releases from anthropogenic sources (e.g., petrochemicals or hazardous waste sites) could increase the mortality rate in fence-line communities," Rifai told the University of Houston. "Results showed a significant difference in life expectancy among census tracts with at least one Superfund site and their neighboring tracts with no sites."
The study pulled data from 65,000 census tracts – defined geographical regions – within the contiguous U.S., The Guardian reported. With this data, researchers found that for communities that are socioeconomically challenged, this life expectancy could decrease by up to a year.
"It was a bit surprising and concerning," Rifai told The Guardian. "We weren't sure [when we started] if the fact that you are socioeconomically challenged would make [the Superfund's effects] worse."
The research team, for example, found that the presence of a Superfund site in a census tract with a median income of less than $52,580 could reduce life expectancy by seven months, the University of Houston reported.
Many of these toxic sites were once used as manufacturing sites during the Second World War. Common toxic substances that are released from the sites into the air and surface water include lead, trichlorethylene, chromium, benzene and arsenic – all of which can lead to health impacts, such as neurological damage among children, The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in a blog.
"The EPA has claimed substantial recent progress in Superfund site cleanups, but, contrary to EPA leadership's grandiose declarations, the backlog of unfunded Superfund cleanups is the largest it has been in the last 15 years," the Union wrote.
Delayed cleanup could become increasingly dangerous as climate change welcomes more natural hazards, like wildfires and flooding. According to a Government Accountability Office report, for example, climate change could threaten at least 60 percent of Superfund sites in the U.S., AP News reported.
During the summer of 2018, a major wildfire took over the Iron Mountain Superfund site near Redding, CA, ruining wastewater treatment infrastructure that is responsible for capturing 168 million gallons of acid mine drainage every month, NBC News reported.
"There was this feeling of 'My God. We ought to have better tracking of wildfires at Superfund locations,'" Stephen Hoffman, a former senior environmental scientist at the EPA, told NBC News. "Before that, there wasn't a lot of thought about climate change and fire. That has changed."
In the study, researchers also looked at the impacts of floodings on Superfund sites, which could send toxins flowing into communities and waterways.
"When you add in flooding, there will be ancillary or secondary impacts that can potentially be exacerbated by a changing future climate," Rifai told the University of Houston. "The long-term effect of the flooding and repetitive exposure has an effect that can transcend generations."
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A weather research station on a bluff overlooking the sea is closing down because of the climate crisis.
The National Weather Service (NWS) station in Chatham, Massachusetts was evacuated March 31 over concerns the entire operation would topple into the ocean.
"We had to say goodbye to the site because of where we are located at the Monomoy Wildlife Refuge, we're adjacent to a bluff that overlooks the ocean," Boston NWS meteorologist Andy Nash told WHDH at the time. "We had to close and cease operations there because that bluff has significantly eroded."
Chatham is located on the elbow of Cape Cod, a land mass extending out into the Atlantic Ocean that has been reshaped and eroded by waves and tides over tens of thousands of years, The Guardian explained. However, sea level rise and extreme weather caused by the climate crisis have sped that change along.
"It's an extremely dynamic environment, which is obviously a problem if you are building permanent infrastructure here," Andrew Ashton, an associate scientist at Cape-Cod based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told The Guardian. "We are putting our foot on the accelerator to make the environment even more dynamic."
This was the case with the Chatham weather station. It used to be protected from the drop into the ocean by about 100 feet of land. However, storm action in 2020 alone washed away as much as six feet of land a day.
"We'd know[n] for a long time there was erosion but the pace of it caught everyone by surprise," Nash told The Guardian. "We felt we had maybe another 10 years but then we started losing a foot of a bluff a week and realized we didn't have years, we had just a few months. We were a couple of storms from a very big problem."
The Chatham station was part of a network of 92 NWS stations that monitor temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction and other data in the upper atmosphere, The Cape Cod Chronicle explained. The stations send up radiosondes attached to weather balloons twice a day to help with weather research and prediction. The Chatham station, which had been observing this ritual for the past half a century, sent up its last balloon the morning of March 31.
"We're going to miss the observations," Nash told The Cape Cod Chronicle. "It gives us a snapshot, a profile of the atmosphere when the balloons go up."
The station was officially decommissioned April 1, and the two buildings on the site will be demolished sometime this month. The NWS is looking for a new location in southeastern New England. In the meantime, forecasters will rely on data from stations in New York and Maine.
Nash said the leavetaking was bittersweet, but inevitable.
"[M]other nature is evicting us," he told The Cape Cod Chronicle.