Green Century Funds published an article in May of 2010 about investors asking the EPA for the stricter of two options regarding regulations of coal ash disposal in order to protect the environment, the public and investors from another disaster like the Kingston TVA Spill in 2008.
Southern Company shareholders, the parent company of Alabama Power (AP), considered the following resolution which is the third shareholder proposal to be voted on in 2010:
Report on Coal Combustion Waste
WHEREAS: Coal combustion waste (CCW) is a by-product of burning coal that contains high concentrations of arsenic, mercury, heavy metals and other toxins filtered out of smokestacks by pollution control equipment. CCW is often stored in landfills, impoundment ponds or abandoned mines. Over 130 million tons of CCW are generated each year in the U.S. Coal combustion comprises a significant portion (68%) of Southern Company’s generation capacity.
The toxins in CCW have been linked to cancer, organ failure, and other serious health problems. In October 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a report finding that “Pollutants in coal combustion wastewater are of particular concern because they can occur in large quantities (i.e., total pounds) and at high concentrations …in discharges and leachate to groundwater and surface waters.”
The EPA has found evidence at over 60 sites in the U.S. that CCW has polluted ground and surface waters.
Recent reports by the New York Times and others have drawn attention to CCW’s impact on the nation’s waterways, as a result of leaking CCW storage sites or direct discharge into surrounding rivers and streams.
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) 1.1 billion gallon CCW spill in December 2008 that covered over 300 acres in eastern Tennessee with toxic sludge highlights the serious environmental risks associated with CCW. TVA estimates a total cleanup cost of $1.2 billion. This figure does not include the legal claims that have arisen in the spill’s aftermath.
Our company also re-uses a significant portion of its CCW. While dry CCW has several beneficial re-uses, such as in concrete and pavement, it can also pose public health and environmental risks in the dry form.The EPA plans to determine by the end of 2009 whether certain power plant by-products such as coal ash should be treated as hazardous waste, which would subject CCW to stricter regulations.
The EPA has identified over 580 CCW impoundment facilities around the country. At least 49 of these have been rated by the National Inventory of Dams (NID) as “high hazard potential” sites, where a dam breach would likely result in a loss of human life and significant environmental consequences. According to our company’s filings with the EPA, our company operates at least 18 CCW impoundments. One of these ponds, operated by Georgia Power, has been labeled “high hazard potential” by the NID.
Our company has withheld information about inspections and size of its ponds as confidential, despite disclosure of inspection information by all other responding companies, keeping shareholders in the dark about possible risks.
RESOLVED: Shareholders request that the Board prepare a report on the company’s efforts, above and beyond current compliance, to reduce environmental and health hazards associated with coal combustion waste, and how those efforts may reduce legal, reputational and other risks to the company’s finances and operations. This report should be available to shareholders by August 2010, be prepared at reasonable cost, and omit confidential information such as proprietary data or legal strategy.
It all sounds 'reasonable and responsible' even if it is only viewed in the shareholder perspective of protecting their investment, from not only the cleanup costs of another big spill ($825 million in the Kingston spill est.), but also the ensuing lawsuits that inevitably accompany such a disaster.
The resolution was not adopted.
Similar resolutions have been adopted by Northern and Midwestern shareholders who went the extra mile of choosing the strictest EPA option, but the South continues to resist any regulation of its enormous appetite for coal:
“Southern Company produces over 6 million tons of coal ash each year and operates over 20 coal ash storage facilities, but fails to provide investors meaningful information about how it prevents harmful environmental impacts and mitigates coal ash-related risks,” said Emily Stone, Shareholder Advocate at Green Century.
"Unfortunately, none of the investors that signed onto the letter are from the South," reports Emily Stone, a shareholder advocate with Green Century Capital Management, an investment advisory firm that organized the letter along with As You Sow, a group that promotes socially responsible investing. "Most are from the Midwest, Northeast and West Coast."
An article in the Birmingham News from December of 2009 reports another dangerous position of Alabama Power and reveals their continued refusal to release basic records of their coal ash ponds safety, and inspection dam records, which effectively shields those records from public scrutiny;
Alabama Power Co. and Mississippi Power Co. are keeping basic safety and inspection records for dams around coal ash ponds out of the public eye, calling them "confidential business information."
Both are subsidiaries of Southern Company, which is the only utility in the nation refusing to reveal such information, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency records. Southern Company subsidiaries in Georgia and Florida also have claimed confidentiality.
"The specific information is considered proprietary," Alabama Power said in an e-mailed statement last week. "Public safety and the security of our facilities are our primary concerns. Our ash pond poses no threat to our employees or the public."
The EPA in March compelled all coal-burning power plants to answer questions regarding inspections and safety of the nation's 580 ash ponds. Redacted copies of answers provided by Alabama Power and Mississippi Power were obtained by the Mobile Press-Register.
In the section for questions regarding formal inspections, repairs and other activities at their plants, both companies tagged their answers as "confidential business information," meaning the EPA could not release them to the public. Both companies also stated their records "would raise homeland security concerns if publicly disclosed."
Richard Kinch, the EPA official in charge of the ash pond questionnaire, has been quoted as questioning how the safety of a dam could be a business secret. EPA officials said such claims are subject to review by the agency, but would not say whether the agency has reviewed them.
"Everyone else has volunteered this information," said Kimberly Wilson of the Washington based Environmental Integrity Project. "We don't understand what they are afraid of."
The Google Earth picture below shows the enormity of APs Gaston plant coal ash ponds situated a very short distance from the Coosa River which APs seven hydroelectric dams have already denigrated beyond recovery. It's almost as if they have declared war on the Coosa River, arbitrarily deciding it is theirs for the taking.
Estimates for the amount of the coal ash in these ponds is 373.1 thousand tons and rising.
[Plant Name: E.C. Gaston, Zip: 35186, Total Coal Ash: 373.1 thousand tons]
|Alabama Power's Gaston Plant Wilsonville, Alabama. The Coosa River is on the right, one coal ash pond is wider than the river and additional waste areas are in the immediate foreground.|
Most of the coal ash ponds were constructed in the 1960s with "state of the art technology at that time", but they're decades old now which raises questions about the integrity of the liners and the dams-- records indicate that state and federal inspections are "infrequent or nonexistent." ADEM files confirm this to be the case on the Gaston plant.
In a ten year period from January1, 2000-September 2010, under Inspections, only ten entries were in ADEM's e-file system for the Gaston plant with most of them being an inspection the General Services Complex 744 CR 87 Calera, Alabama. One "surprise inspection" occurred on 9/20/2006 and it was described as an "annual inspection," but it was only one of two "annual inspections" of the Gaston plant itself in the ADEM files for the entire decade.
(File # 590_411-0005_117 20090409 IR MOG ANN.pdf)
(File# 590 411-005 117 09-20-2006 IR MOG ANN.tif)
On June 4, 2009 ADEM employee Janna McIndoe "documented certain items of concern" about a Gaston landfill with no details of what those were in the report. ADEM employee Linda Brown (enforcement & remediation) wrote this in response to McIndoe's "concerns"; "After reviewing inspection reports a determination was made no further enforcement action was necessary." We found no enforcement of any kind that Ms. Brown may have been referring to in the e-file system and want to also point out that the letter says she reviewed only the inspection reports (not in the e-file system), which seems to suggest there was not an actual site review to physically ascertain what Ms. McIndoe saw.
(File # 00590 59-14 117 20090610 SWMR NFEA.pdf)
**Update we found the inspection report
Under the Enforcement section for the same time period of ten years, only 3 documents appear, all of them in the same year of 2009, two are one page Aquatic Toxicity Reports (specifying "passed" no accompanying testing documents) and the third indicates that "no sample was collected as required before discharges began." In short, it appears they opened the discharge pipes, got rid of what they needed to and shut them off:
CAUSE OF NON-COMPLIANCE--DSNO26 drain was opened and commenced discharging on June 1, 2009. Discharge ceased before sample was collected.
ADEM states "samples are to be taken as soon as the discharge begins." AP has been at this long enough to know what the rules are.
In the section of "Other" documents, some Aquatic Toxicity Reports (ATR) appear with 13 other documents, same time frame of ten years, but why aren't they with the other ATRs?
We noted another document that shows NA for groundwater monitoring in four areas. Does that mean they don't have to do this? Who made that decision?
Our point should be obvious and there appears to be a lackadaisical attitude in strict oversight of this facility by ADEM and Region 4 EPA. We are going to argue that given the size of the coal ash ponds, the sheer volume of releases by this facility and their resistance to releasing information reveals the power of Big Coal in the South and the stubbornness of the New Mules.
Southern Company: Choosing Profit Over Life for Decades (EC Gaston plant);
We’re not talking an occasional unpleasant whiff of sulfur dioxide that might obscure a few stars falling on 21st century Alabama on a lazy, hazy summer evening now and then.
We’re talking hundreds of thousands and occasionally millions of tons of particulate matter (minute bits of fly ash mixed with droplets of various combustion gas combinations), sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide, along with hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds of mercury being wafted into the atmosphere from tall industrial smoke stacks to settle back to the ground along and down the “wind shed” of North Alabama which happens to be most of Georgia -- especially my part of Georgia.
A case in point:Alabama Power’s E. C. Gaston steam plant in Shelby County, Alabama, southeast of Birmingham on the Coosa River, is one of the worst polluters in the nation, ranking in the top 50 dirtiest plants in every measurable category, according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) numbers for the year 2005 -- the most recent data available.
E.C. Gaston ranks 7th in the nation in S02 emissions out of the 376 plants included in the database examined.
E.C. Gaston’s stacks loft 127,658.4 tons -- yes, tons -- of sulfur dioxide annually to drift over East Alabama and onto hapless Georgians. included in the database examined.
Alabama Power’s E.C. Gaston coal plant boasts other dubious pollution honors too.
She ranks 9th in the nation in mercury emissions with 1,025 pounds annually.How many birth defects recorded in East Alabama and Georgia can be attributed to E.C. Gaston mercury is anybody’s guess.
And E.C. Gaston is 18th in the nation out of those 376 plants in terms of NOx emissions with 25,372,3 tons sent skyward annually.
Finally, Alabama Power’s E.C. Gaston plant ranks 44th in that national database in C02 production with 12,234,048.4 tons sent up annually to help melt the polar ice caps.
And E.C. Gaston is only one of four Alabama Power/Southern Company plants that make the “Dirty 50” list.
John Grogan, Environmental Compliance Manager for Alabama Power, is on the Board of Directors for BARD (New Mules), an organization that carries on the Big Mule philosophies in Alabama(and some contend the entire Deep South region) of absolute power to ensure their own economic interests:
In another popular Big Mule tactic, a corporation such as the Alabama Power Company would buy the loyalties of recent law school graduates by placing them on a monthly retainer. They rarely did any work for the corporation, but its status as a client would prevent them from taking any cases against it. If any of these men had political ambitions, they would be beholden to the corporation. These retainers represented a major source of income for lawyers just establishing their practices in Alabama's small towns and cities.(Encyclopedia of Alabama Black Belt Big Mule Coalition)
The Southern Company, which boasts a sterling NYSE rating and of record profits annually, is responsible for some of the most reprehensible industrial pollution in North America and, in a larger sense, throughout the world since jet stream borne pollution travels to every continent from every continent.
In a press release on their upscale web site -- one replete with references to the Southern Company’s highly evolved environmental conscience -- this corporate purveyor of disease and death wrote of her 2006 earnings:
“Citing continued economic strength and a growing customer base in the Southeast, Southern Company today reported full-year 2006 earnings of $1.57 billion, or $2.12 a share . . .“Southern Company also reported solid fourth quarter earnings of $188.4 million, or 25 cents a share. This compared with reported earnings of $158.9 million, or 21 cents per share, in the fourth quarter of 2005. . . .”
The Southern Company had enough money to pay each stockholder an exceptional dividend, but she didn’t have enough money to clean up her smoke stacks that are killing people.
Everything is coming up roses for investors in Southern Company stock, one is led to believe.
John Archibald Birmingham News "New Mules Now Pull Bandwagon":
I've talked about the "New Mules" in the past, the big business interests who want to rule the county.
You know the gang, the Business Alliance for Responsible Development: Alabama Power, the coal and steel companies, the Barber Cos. and those that get their kicks castrating environmental activists.
Just know this: Big business -- the New Mules -- are pulling this bandwagon.
Some say that's how it should be, that business should lead the way, particularly when government has failed. But big business has earned its share of blame in this town, too. It has a grand history of looking out only for itself, and leaving the people and the city high and dry.
Maybe all that has changed, and maybe I'm a fool. But it's rarely smart to put all your eggs in one basket. Particularly when it's being carried by New Mules.
The public and political face of the New Mules is BARD, the Orwellian Business Alliance for Responsible Development. BARD has worked smartly and relentlessly to crush opposition to its policies, whether that be SWMA or foes of the Northern beltline.
Backed by real estate and construction interests, coal and steel companies and Alabama Power, BARD has labeled SWMA a "rogue agency" and linked it - an agency run by a bunch of hardly liberal Birmingham-area mayors - as a friend to tree huggers.
Just like the old Big Mules, who crushed reforms that might help the people, seeing them as threats to power.
It should come as no surprise that the Southern Company along with other coal kings of the South, balk on regulation for coal ash, because as Mr. Archibald points out "the Mule way, in Alabama, is the way it has always been."