Utility Saves Cash – while Coal Ash Splash Trashes Lake Michigan

November 3, 2011

We already knew, from 3 new studies that have come out just recently, that burning coal is a net negative for the economy, and if we paid the true costs, even apart from climate change, coal electricity would (at least) triple (!) in price.

Now a reminder.

Coal Tattoo:

Let’s start this morning by remembering the standard line from opponents of strong EPA regulation of toxic coal ash: States can handle this. And then, let’s take a look at the report out this morning from the folks at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal:

State environment regulators gave We Energies a pass in 2008 – exempting it from certain rules so that construction work could be done atop coal ash landfills on a bluff on the Lake Michigan shoreline at the utility’s Oak Creek Power Plant, officials said Tuesday.

Department of Natural Resources officials determined in 2008 that construction activities on an ash-filled ravine and other small landfills south of the utility’s two plants on the property would not increase the risk of the ash or other contaminants getting into the lake, said Frank Schultz, the department’s waste supervisor in Milwaukee. We Energies is building an air quality control facility for the older power plant at the site.

State environmental and utility regulators at the time decided that the construction activity would not significantly damage the environment, so no impact studies were needed.

Work progressed until Monday, when a wide section of the bluff, including part of an ash-filled ravine, collapsed, sending a destructive cascade of mud down the slope and into the lake. No one is certain of the extent of the environmental damage, DNR officials said.

It wasn’t so long ago that Earthjustice and Appalachian Mountain Advocates warned of the dangers of letting states handle this important job:

Our review reveals that most states do not require all coal ash landfills and ponds to employ the most basic safeguards required at household trash landfills, such as composite liners, groundwater monitoring, leachate collection systems, dust controls and financial assurance; nor do states require that coal ash ponds be operated to avoid catastrophic collapse. In addition, most states allow the placement of toxic coal ash in water tables and the siting of ponds and landfills in wetlands, unstable areas and floodplains. When measured against basic safeguards that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified as essential to protect health and the environment,1 state regulatory programs fail miserably to guarantee safety from contamination and catastrophe.

UPDATED:

The Milwaukee paper also reported –

The Public Service Commission’s 2008 decision approving the project said the agency determined the $900 million pollution control project at the original Oak Creek coal plant was not a project that required either a detailed environmental impact statement or a less exhaustive environmental assessment.

An environmental study could have explored the potential impact of building a storm-water retention pond so close to an ash-filled lake bluff, said Jennifer Feyerherm of the Sierra Club in Madison.

“The whole point of one of these assessments is to identify things that could go wrong and try to mitigate them or decide if that risk is too big,” she said.

“Any large construction project poses risks to the environment, especially a large construction project that is next to a national treasure that supplies drinking water to millions,” Feyerherm said.

The Three Studies:

American Economic Review:
Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy

New York Academy of Sciences: Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal

National Academy of Science: Hidden Costs of Energy – Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use

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2 Responses to “Utility Saves Cash – while Coal Ash Splash Trashes Lake Michigan”

  1. mrsircharles Says:

    And there are still people who believe that we don’t need any regulations.

    Let the free market destroy mother nature as quickly as possible. All what counts is short term profits for a few.

    “Only when the last tree has died, the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize that we cannot eat money.”

    • BlueRock Says:

      That’s one of my favourites. Another:

      * “Whenever a neocon stops fantasizing long enough to admit there is a problem, he turns Hegelian and excuses every horror as a stone along the difficult road of progress.” Mariam Lau


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