Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Alabama Power Gorgas Plant Walker County--Rattlesnake Dam-- EPA May 2010 Inspection

Alabama Power, in response to an EPA inspection, recently released "action plans" regarding the companies' statewide coal ash pond dams that was likely the product of two things; a well designed PR move to feign responsibility from the company which has repeatedly demonstrated strong resistance to in practice, and because of pressure from the US EPA on the ever increasing high visibility issue of coal ash dam spill potential similar to the devastating TVA Kingston catastrophe in 2008.

Paul Hamaker of the Birmingham Science News Examiner wrote an excellent piece on this from May 25, 2010: (linked to above "action plans")
Six comments were received from Alabama Power Company to the original investigation and no comments were received from State Agencies including the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) even though ADEM was present at the investigation.
The reports concluded (according to Alabama Power (APC) that the units were in "satisfactory" condition -- a most favored category. APC also interprets the hazard rating as based solely on the consequences of structural failure not the likelihood of such an event.
A definite difference of interpretation is apparent in APC and EPA versions of the inspection.
APC has complied with the EPA recommendations.
The claim of compliance is from Alabama Power not Region 4 EPA which we contacted about this particular sentence who stated in response; "We have received their (AP) assurances that most of our recommendations would be implemented and we plan to follow up." To repeat Mr. Hamaker's sentence which seems appropriate here too--"A definite difference of interpretation is apparent..."

What's especially troubling as we pointed out in a recent post about Alabama Power is the lack of annual inspections, proper inspections and the lax attitude by ADEM towards a corporate entity that this state "environmental management" and regulatory (E & R) agency is making a great deal of money from in emission amount fees per ton and their permitting fees.

That is the inherent problem with many state E & R  agencies and suggests not only a predisposed concessionary nature to the arrangement but also a compelling, but not illegal conflict of interest going on with the whole scenario which reeks of collusion and is a ripe bed for possible corruption and conflicts of interest to flourish.

And it does.

That has been cited by numerous articles (Anita Archie, former ADEM Director Trey Glenn, etc) and is the basis for a lawsuit filed with the EPA to have ADEMs water permitting authority taken away based largely on their "inability to faithfully properly execute their duties and the major downturn in enforcements."

In the following inspection and engineering report this theme goes on in secrecy and the redaction of large sections  of information that are probably the result of AP, their lawyers (Balch & Binghman's Steve Burns was present at the inspection) and negotiations with the EPA who has been instrumental in assisting these coal cannibals stay under a cloak of secrecy.

The Public Affairs Council's thoughts on corporate transparency;
It seems that everyone - from the institutional investor to the anti-globalization protester - is demanding more corporate transparency.
Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. This legislation made major changes in the rules for corporate governance, financial disclosure, auditor independence and corporate criminal liability. 
One of the key premises of the law is that transparency serves as a deterrent to illegal or unethical behavior. The more information a company is required to disclose, lawmakers reason, the more likely it is that investors will make sound decisions. (VAC Editor's note--this also was part of the AP shareholder resolution)
Activists don't just want to know what a company produces; they want to know how it is produced. Are child laborers used? Are worker conditions safe? Are toxic emissions being released into the air? What is a company doing to reclaim the land it has mined for minerals? 
Just as Enron spurred the outcry for more financial disclosure, scandals (and alleged scandals) dealing with companies ranging from Nike to Royal Dutch Shell have created a host of initiatives to require detailed reporting of company operations around the world.
In this environment, corporate CEOs and their communications and public affairs counselors must ask themselves a series of tough questions:
  • Can we comply with the laws and keep up with the public's expectations?
  • Where is this push toward greater transparency going?
  • Will greater transparency build trust in our company or will it merely open the door to further harsh scrutiny?
Corporate management needs to take on the responsibility for creating an open environment. "Some companies will lean forward into disclosure and make that information transparent to their investors," said NIRI President and CEO Lou Thompson in a recent speech. "Some companies will be leaders. Others will reluctantly comply with these new rules as their lawyers counsel that being too progressive involves too much risk." 
With that in mind should a disaster occur with any of Alabama Power's coal ash ponds the public would perhaps be more open to to the "benefit of the doubt should a crisis occur." But instead the atmosphere that Alabama Power, their lawyers and PR men have created is one of selective information and arbitrarily deciding that they alone know best what is a risk and what is not. They simply will not allow full scrutiny and disclosure on this issue. All published indicators seem to point to that thinking being highly fallible and potentially dangerous to the public health and the environmental destruction that a big spill would cause.

The following document has so much redaction that it deserves to be questioned and certainly should raise some serious red flags to the reader:
Dam Inspection Report--Gorgas Steam Plant Alabama Power Company Walker County, Alabama

Google Map of the Gorgas Plant
Total Coal Ash: 352.9 thousand tons

View Larger Map

Alabama Power is probably the most well-connected political corporation in the state and they wield the mighty kick of the New Mules (BARD) with a ferocity that rivals their oppressive and dominant predecessor the Big Mules. If you have the money and the political connections "The World Is Yours" which was the mantra of the movie Scarface and isn't too far off of what some relationships are between corporate heavyweights and their political money addicts--minus the illegal addictions and guns. It's still about "you got the money, you got the power, you get what you want."

An article published in e! Science News on September 21, 2010 originating from Wiley-Blackwell and based on a study by the journal of Financial Management makes the clear connection between political corruption and corporate connections which occur not only in environmental issues but extends all the way to Wall Street;
"Politically connected firms have higher leverage (in the form of preferential loans), pay lower taxes, have regulatory protection, are eligible for government aid, and have stronger market power. They differ more dramatically from their peers when their political links are stronger, and in more corrupt countries, although these characteristics can be observed worldwide." 
The article has a warning at its conclusion that is all but ignored by every big polluter in the state of Alabama, their bought and paid for political pushers and the law firms and PR men who represent and further enable them;
"Those in leadership at politically connected firms need to think about how their choices affect the long-term operations of their business, and the business and political world at large."
We would say that environmental consequences and the public health are two subjects that should be added to that conclusion, because both of them also have the potential for extreme financial consequences evidenced in many well-known events not just in Alabama but globally. This was the major point of the recent Alabama Power shareholder vote in asking for the strictest EPA classification of coal ash.

But what happens in Alabama is all about a one-sided gain with the biggest profits going to the corporation and the rest to state and local governments who use a disproportionate amount of the funds for the citizens and the state environment--most of the funds are corporate welfare and serve to further fatten the power brokers, amoral politicians and their own self-serving interests.

These corporations know this and can spot an easy mark from miles away. The destruction of Alabama's environment (and our political and legal systems) by the New Mules is based in the way they purposefully set out to find the weaknesses in the state structures and regulation loopholes, align themselves with the politicians that can assist them in exploiting these weaknesses and under the cover of money, favorable legislation and power by proxy dressed out in promises of jobs and increased tax revenues they lay out communities' corruptible leaders out for the kill.

It works every time and they know it-- it has become instinctual to them an ingrained trait that seems to defy outside influence of any kind.

We would like to presume that Alabama Power's seemingly positive step to recognize the seriousness of this issue on coal ash pond dam integrity signals that the company is perhaps rethinking their long-standing attitude of corporate secrecy regarding inspections and monitoring, but we are struggling to see compelling evidence to support this.

From the lack of annual inspections, no apparent groundwater monitoring program *2007, *2008, scant ATRs, APs confidential and proprietary claims in the media and the resistance to adopt a stricter standard for coal regulation in the shareholder meeting earlier this year all roads lead to business as usual.
** Two of only three found in the files from Jan 2000-Sept 2010.

Once again the basic tenants of the Big Mule philosophy refuse to change.

**Editor's note--there are additional links to documents in the Hamaker article that accompany the report presented here.
Gorgas Steam Plant Emissions, Commission for Environmental Cooperation 
SourceWatch Southern Company
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  1. What I will never understand is why this continues to be such a prominent part of the Alabama business landscape--is there no incentive to learn from the past?
    What the Big Mules did in Alabama is beyond reprehension and here we are again in the 21st century and it's the same thing with little variation.
    Black leaders and groups are selling out their own through the power and influence of BARD and they have become the slavemasters that BARD was in days past. How did this ever get so turned upside down?
    Where is Sharpton? How about the SPLC? What the hell is it going to take for this to stop?
    It simply drives me crazy to no end.

  2. It won't ever change until the voters of this state wake up and realize the importance of their votes. It seems if you say "Christian and family values" that's enough to get your vote.
    Those two things are good, but if you are going to walk he walk, talk the talk.
    The press does not help the people if Alabama one bit by being so hands off with what is real news, especially during election cycles.
    Have you seen Bentley's campaign contributions? He is bought and paid for by the usual suspects, BARD, handsomely.

  3. http://www.decaturdaily.com/stories/Money-links-senators-to-Capitol-Hill-power-,66519

  4. I must agree with what I am reading through the linked information that there does not seem to be any security concern to hide behind which is one thing Alabama Power is claiming as a reason for their extensive secrecy.
    What I do see is a deliberate attempt by this company to thwart scrutiny and responsibility that is aligned with the EPA and your state agencies.
    This is quite shocking to put it mildly.

  5. Very clear what is going on here COVER UP.


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