Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Friday, July 29, 2011

EMC Hearing Officer's Report on Sheperd's Bend Coal Mine Allowing NPDES Permit Despite Legal Challenge From BWRK and Others

The following document is the record from the hearing on July 20, 2011 regarding the Shepherd's Bend Mine Permit. Black Warrior Riverkeeper issued a subsequent press release in response to the decision on July 22, 2011.

There is a lot to be troubled about concerning the decision of the EMC Hearing Officer, James F. Hampton, who's been a judge, a Special Assistant Attorney General for the State of Alabama and a hearing officer in the BARD Motion to Intervene regarding SWMA. Mr. Hampton has quite a long pedigree as a state inclined legal eagle and his conclusion about this controversial mine permit is not unexpected, but it is disappointing.

Page 7 Item 10 is also disappointing and allows a lot of wiggle room for what ADEM may or may not do if issuing this permit becomes problematic. The chances are high, if the history of mine discharge in Alabama is any indicator, that there will be problems and plenty of them:
"Permit does not contain limitations on chlorides, sulfide, total dissolved solids or aluminum, which are commonly associated with acid mine drainage. Under this permit, ADEM may modify the terms of the permit, if, in the future, it is shown to ADEM's satisfaction that the permit is not protective of water quality."
EMC Docket No 09-04-2011 07 20 Report of Hearing Officer

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Capitol City Plume"--Fifty City Block Toxic Underground Plume in Montgomery, Alabama

This story has a compelling similarity to the Walter Coke contamination in north Birmingham--state and federal environmental officials have known about the contamination for decades and have been slow to act in cleaning up the area, while development has proceeded at a fast clip. A statewide pattern seems to be finally making its way onto the public radar revealing Alabama to be systemically and dangerously contaminated.

There's a tradeoff cost in human health and life that doesn't seem to figure into our governmental and business leader's plans. We cannot seem to count on EPA Region 4 for help either--they too seem to be carrying the water for the developers and getting into the *PR business outside of their environmental and public safety watchdog purview.
*(linked further on down in article on the phrase "revitalization of downtown Montgomery")

How many other areas in Alabama is the deadly deception going on unbeknownst to the potentially-vulnerable-to-exposure general public? And why?  Here's a list for Alabama from the Center For Public Integrity National Priority sites. Five Alabama sites are on the "Most Dangerous Superfunds Sites" list. The Capital City Plume, according to the census figures from 2000, was affecting a population of 209,615.

News story July 26, 2011 Associated Press via Al.com state wire:
The Environmental Protection Agency has identified the Montgomery Advertiser as one of the entities that may have caused the plume when operating at its former location.
County Commission Chairman Elton Dean said he remains confident that the county did due diligence before purchasing the old newspaper building and turning it into the county's main building after renovations.
News story by Ben Flanagan Al.com September 28, 2010: "Montgomery Commission tests air quality of county building":
"During a search for the source of the problem, a black, sooty substance was discovered in several isolated areas on the original concrete structure, according to a press release. A sample of that substance was collected on Sept. 3 and sent to Sutherland Environmental Company, Inc., where it was analyzed for 58 volatile organic compounds. Fifty-five of the compounds were not detected but small concentrations of *three compounds were detected." *note that the substances are not identified.
Region 4 Superfund
The Capitol City Plume site is located in downtown Montgomery, Alabama. The contaminated ground water plume is believed to exist throughout the downtown area. In September 1993, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) began investigating a report of Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) soil contamination at the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) Energy Plant site at the corner of Monroe Street and McDonough Street.

After 17 months of investigative work, ADEM came to the conclusion that there are a minimum of 6 ground water plumes contaminated with PCE and benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX). The site covers an area from Alabama Street (south) to Pollard Street (north) and Court Street (west) to Union Street (east). 
In 1993, soil containing PCE was excavated during construction of the RSA Tower. The soil was removed and disposed of properly. The discovery of the PCE in the soil prompted ADEM to conduct a preliminary assessment of the area near the RSA Tower. The preliminary assessment performed by ADEM concluded that ground water was contaminated with PCE and BTEX.

Field work for the RI/FS began in March 2000 and was completed in 2003. Soil samples and ground water samples have been collected to delineate the areal extent of the contamination plumes. Analytical results from the ground water indicate that the shallow aquifer in the Montgomery downtown area is contaminated with PCE, BTEX, TCE (Trichloroethylene), and metals. 

Installation of 16 new monitoring wells and 16 temporary wells has been completed. The City has removed and plugged two shallow drinking water wells at the Court Street Pump Station but continues to pump drinking water from deep wells.
The City of Montgomery has implemented a moratorium on well drilling in the vicinity of the site (downtown area). Beginning in May 2006, the City began monitoring the ground water contamination through monitoring wells. Monitoring will continue for five years. The City will be sending the ground water monitoring data to ADEM and EPA Region 4.
The City of Montgomery has also been working with EPA in implementing a voluntary phytoremediation effort in the ground water plume to reduce risk to human health and the environment.

A supplemental remedial investigation took place in stages from August 2008 to the present. *Sample results have identified sources of contamination and the time at which the contamination was discharged to the environment.
*Please note the above sentence which states that there are "identified sources of contamination" while this linked narrative from May 11, 2000 cites only "potential sources" generally identified without a specific business name as "a chemical wholesaler, airport maintenance shops, airport fueling areas, an auto repair shop and a dry cleaner."
Site investigation activities are being led primarily by EPA and the United States Geological Survey.
From August 2-5, 2011, EPA and USGS representatives will conduct field sampling activities to further delineate the groundwater contamination as well as to assess if vapor intrusion is taking place in an existing Montgomery County building.
Who's making the decision to "move forward with privately-funded activities" instead of applying for Superfund monies to clean up this massive twenty year old contamination?
On August 1, 2011, EPA will meet with representatives of two potentially-responsible parties identified in a Site remedial investigation, Alabama Department of Environmental Management, City of Montgomery, USGS, and Montgomery Water Works representatives to discuss moving forward with privately-funded activities related to Site characterization and remediation. 
Alabama could have applied for the $600,000,000 made available for Superfund cleanup from the 2009 Stimulus Funds but they did not make any applications for a percent of the available money in this area: (but they did in many other areas for federal handouts)

Hazardous Substances Superfund - (Alabama will not be receiving stimulus funds for this program)
(National Appropriation: $600,000,000)
Description: This program provides additional funding to the Environmental Protection Agency for the Superfund Remedial Program. This program allows states to enter in competitive agreements with the EPA to conduct certain remedial actions at Superfund sites and receive a credit from the government for 90 percent of eligible expenses.

John Archibald, of the Birmingham News, in one of his recent columns offered this statement about Alabama's rampant pollution and economic development mindset: "That's traditional Alabama values again: better dead than unprofitable." EPA Region 4 seems to go along with that idea, especially since they knew about the CC Plume, in the following statements on the *revitalization of downtown Montgomery and the importance of 'sticking to the plan':
Capitol City Ground Water PlumeGround water in western portions of downtown Montgomery, Alabama, is contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE), chemicals commonly used in dry cleaning and cleaning of machine parts. Work to assess the ground water contamination and develop the site’s cleanup plan is currently ongoing. The City of Montgomery is working closely with EPA to facilitate the site’s cleanup. Downtown Montgomery remains open for business during the site’s ground water cleanup. Land uses include retail districts, neighborhoods, parks, offices and industrial areas. The revitalization of Montgomery’s downtown is a major community priority. The area is recognized as the “heart of the city.” Recent redevelopment projects include the Montgomery Biscuits minor league baseball stadium, retail centers, downtown apartments and restaurants.
Have our business leaders, politicians, economic developers and state agencies simply lost their minds from the effects of all the pollution or are they just out to eliminate the undesirable elements of Alabama's communities? The location of the Capital City Plume seems to negate the latter, because a large portion of the businesses and developments in the affected area are housing some of our state elites, primarily in the RSA Tower Complex of Montgomery, located in the toxic zone.

So what other possibility does that leave us as to why Alabama continues to labor under the delusion of their favorite hackney-eyed, overused phrase of describing economic development as "world class?" There's nothing blue ribbon or superior about any development that comes with a staggering cost of health to a large segment of people.

Unless Archibald's right--"better dead than unprofitable."

Or maybe it's something else entirely consisting of the usual BARD suspects and their webs of deceit.

Maybe it's a combination of the two strengthened by the political pay to play system our legislators have grown ridiculously accustomed to.

Whatever the reasons, the citizens of this state deserve truth, accountability and transparency with information that directly affects the quality of their lives and not the same old deadly deceptions of business as usual.
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AlterNet--"Banning Corporate Personhood: How Communities Are Taking the Law Back from Big Companies"

In an article by Sabrina Artel, republished on AlterNet, Ben Price of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund explains how communities can fight corporate power with a new legal weapon: Home Rule.

The audio link below is a stellar presentation by Mr. Price, who's addressing the pros and cons of Home Rule in NY, and how it may allow for better oversight in the process of natural gas drilling aka fracing or fracking. However, his points on Corporate Personhood, and the need for more local control in issues that profoundly impact communities, is universal and compelling information for everyone to consider.

He's on the right path, but there's another component that we believe should be incorporated for Home Rule to function effectively--strong citizen involvement.


We agree with Mr. Price in theory, but if corporations and their lobbyists can influence legislation on a state and federal level, they'll also find ways to influence easily persuadable and sometimes corruptible local governments, particularly the ones that are strapped for funds and jobs.
The two biggest disadvantages of Home Rule are:
---The ability of a municipality to increase revenue through taxes and bond issuance
---The ability to exert local control over decision making with limited or no oversight and the absence of certain procedural limitations
Both of these situations can lead to financial disaster for a community if the decision makers are not intellectually equipped to understand the ramifications of their decisions. It's not commonplace for most municipalities, especially smaller ones, to count among their local government members individuals who have a strong economic and financial background. In fact, most local governmental bodies in Alabama are made up of average citizens who's education level does not exceed high school.

In communities where there are officials with a higher education degree, the problem persists of a lack of economic and financial expertise, in conjunction with the ability to look down the road and envision potential long-range consequences. These communities frequently place the fate of their development plans into the hands of county officials. The agenda of a county government differs from local government and they'll always operate in the best interest of county revenue potential first and foremost, without fair consideration for local community impacts such as:
---Environmental impacts on the quality of life, including air and water quality
---Potential long-term impact on the alteration of the surrounding lands and how it will affect future generations
---The shifting of the community political power base to corporatism instead of populism
---Opening the door to non-community based special interests to write and direct local zoning laws and regulations
Readers of our site can recall numerous stories we've posted that serve as compelling examples of how the theory of Home Rule can be abused by a less than transparent local governmental body. Alabama as a whole is replete with instances of local governmental bad decision making, violations of the Open Meeting Act, adopting zoning laws that are against the wishes of the community as a whole, and a general tin-ear stance when it comes to listening to the will of the people.

Far too often decisions are made by less than one percent of the local community's collective population, yet the impact of those decisions are felt by all. Large industrial and invasive projects should never be approved without full community involvement from start to finish. Citizens need to be able to fully evaluate the impacts of potential projects with unbiased information sources and not be bombarded with the propaganda of PR representatives who are only in it for profit.

Local officials encourage this kind of bad behavior and misinformation campaigns because they know they don't have to let the the process be fair. Alabama's Open Meeting Laws are weak and full of loopholes which further enable secrecy about discussions between officials and potential businesses looking to set up shop in the local area.

More often than not, the community is kept in the dark until it's too late to mount effective opposition to a project they do not want. The more controversial a project is the higher the level of secrecy of any precursory information about the plan.

We think a better solution would be to allow citizens to vote on zoning ordinances and proposed projects in their communities in conjunction with Home Rule. By applying stronger citizen involvement in the process of local decision making, the local government has to answer to a deeper layer of the community's wants and desires, and it removes the inclination of local officials to run rough-shod over their citizens' voices.

There are states that have adopted citizen involvement (through voting) in zoning ordinance changes and implementation. We'd like to see Alabama become more responsive to the value of populist government and allow her people to have more of a voice in their communities.

Currently, after years of stripping away citizen power, many Alabamians have simply given up fighting City Hall and Montgomery. They've become dejected and beaten down after years of being ignored by the decision makers at state and local levels and have lost their will to fight. There's been a massive slide in the balance scale of who has the most rights and the loudest voice from the people to corporations.

Corporate America and the political machine intended this result. They've taken this method to the national level and gained Personhood status thanks to the Supreme Court. Mr Price says "as individuals we don't get exemptions from the law that our neighbors (meaning corporations) do." He's right in that assessment, but we don't believe Home Rule is the solution in absence of populist governmental bodies.

Much like corporate America, local government for the most part, will not police itself and tends to operate under the assumption that election to office means they no longer have to listen to their constituents. A fifedom of sorts is created and it becomes a push pull between the interests of a few versus the interests of many--democracy is thwarted and in its place a dictatorship arises.

Home Rule is a worthy debate and idea. Let's go the extra mile and add real teeth to the discussion by giving citizens a stronger voice in what happens to their communities through voting on what they want their community to become--a vibrant and thriving place to call home or a sacrifice zone.

Taking back the law from big business is only half of the problem. Reinstating citizen power and giving the people a mighty voice in the process is the key to a successful and lasting sustainable solution.

So Say We The Opinion Board Of The Vincent Alabama Confidential
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Monday, July 25, 2011

CBS 42 Reports on the Jim Walter North River Mine Coal Slurry Spill and the First Round of Water Quality Tests

*Updated pictures of spill entering Lake Tuscaloosa BWRK July 28, 2011

CBS 42 continues their out-in-front of the pack environmental coverage of Walter Energy (WE) this time it's Fayette County and not north Birmingham.

The initial water testing results of the North River following WE's Jim Walter North River Steam Mine coal slurry spill are in, and as predicted, they aren't good.

The effects of the slurry spill don't resemble a benign event like the one described by Jim Walter spokesman Dennis Hall as nothing more serious than "mud and rocks after a heavy rain." Something much more ominous is revealed through this testing and raising suspicions of deliberate attempts to downplay the event.

---Levels of increased arsenic are being detected anywhere from a minimum of 3X to as high as 34X the limit of EPA levels
---Lead levels are coming at 3X EPA limits 
---Suspension of solids are registering at 4-5X EPA limits
---Turbidity is running at 8-12X higher than the water quality range limit 

Black Warrior Riverkeeper is conducting additional testing and will release their results soon. ASMC's Randall Johnson seems to be laying the groundwork for other direction finger-pointing by claiming that the elevated levels of toxins and pollutants are above and below the area of the spill. Maybe someone should remind him of the drifting nature of water columns.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Black Warrior Riverkeeper "Remains Hopeful" Despite Hearing Officer's Decision on Sheperd's Bend Mine NPDES Permit

      PRESS RELEASE JULY 22, 2011

Nelson Brooke, Riverkeeper, Black Warrior Riverkeeper: (205) 458-0095
Gil Rogers, Senior Attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center: (678) 891-0410

Shepherd Bend Mine Receives Favorable Recommendation

Birmingham – Yesterday, an administrative Hearing Officer recommended that the state Environmental Management Commission (“EMC”) uphold a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) wastewater discharge permit previously issued to Shepherd Bend Mine by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (“ADEM”).  Black Warrior Riverkeeper is disappointed by the Hearing Officer’s report, which we believe is not in the public interest.

Now, the Hearing Officer’s report must go before the EMC on August 19, 2011, and the EMC must decide whether to adopt the Hearing Officer’s recommendations.  The EMC can make an independent determination about the adequacy of the Hearing Officer’s findings.  Southern Environmental Law Center’s (SELC) Managing Attorney in Alabama, Keith Johnston, states “I hope the EMC thoroughly considers the ramifications of issuing this permit.  It affects not only the Mulberry Fork, but 200,000 people who rely on the Mulberry Fork for a drinking water supply.”  

If the EMC chooses to adopt the Hearing Officer’s recommendations, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, together with the SELC, will appeal that decision.  Black Warrior Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke adds, “It is a shame that the Hearing Officer failed to understand that this coal mine permit is weak and will allow unacceptable levels of pollution to harm the river and drinking water for people in the greater Birmingham area.  We will continue to fight this permit until justice is served.” 

Black Warrior Riverkeeper and SELC first challenged ADEM’s  issuance of permit because, even if Shepherd Bend Mine strictly adheres to the terms of its NPDES permit, the permit will allow the mine to discharge a variety of pollutants—iron, manganese, total suspended solids, total dissolved solids, sulfates and chlorides—into Birmingham-area drinking water.

Black Warrior Riverkeeper supplied expert testimony in the permit challenge about how the discharge of these pollutants would harm drinking water. Moreover, the Birmingham Water Works Board (“BWWB”) has offered detailed information as to how the allowed discharge from the mine will introduce pollutants and sediment into the source water, leading to increased treatment costs (typically passed on to customers) and possible health risks.  The mine site is located on a bend of the Mulberry Fork approximately 800 feet across the river and upstream of a BWWB drinking water intake on the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River which serves 200,000 area citizens.   

Despite these compelling facts, the Hearing Officer, while expressing reservations, found that “there is not a preponderance of evidence that the permit in question authorizes discharges of pollutants which, upon discharge, will cause or contribute to a detectable contravention of state water quality standards.”  According to the Director of SELC’s Georgia and Alabama offices, David Pope, “this decision is completely detached from the evidence presented, none of which the Hearing Officer’s report references.” 

Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s Executive Director, Charles Scribner states “No matter what, we remain hopeful that the UA System, a majority land owner at Shepherd Bend, will not lease their land for mining so close to a major Birmingham drinking water intake.”

# # #

Black Warrior Riverkeeper encourages citizens to continue sharing their views about the Shepherd Bend Mine proposal with Dr. Robert E. Witt, President, University of Alabama, (205) 348-5100

Black Warrior Riverkeeper (www.blackwarriorriver.org) is a citizen-based nonprofit environmental advocacy organization whose mission is to protect and restore the Black Warrior River and its tributaries.  The Southern Environmental Law Center (www.SouthernEnvironment.org) is a regional conservation organization using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama).  For more information contact Black Warrior Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke at 205-458-0095 or Gil Rogers, Senior Attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center, 678-891-0410.     
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Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Arsenic and Old Waste"--ADEM & AEMC Give Two Toxic State Reps a Top Billing

There’s a wonderful old movie by Frank Capra, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” in which two dotty old sisters poison elderly bachelors by spiking elderberry wine with arsenic. True to screwball comedy style, they were charming and blameless murderers. Unlike Cary Grant, who discovered the plot, the unknowing citizens of Alabama are being fed a similarly poisonous blend by the equally potentially dangerous actions of state representatives Canfield and Marsh-- the lead players in Alabama’s coal ash bill that could be more appropriately titled “Arsenic and Old Waste.”

In the movie, the deceased bachelors are buried in the basement by a crazy brother who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt digging the Panama Canal. The citizens of Alabama don’t have a script to follow and aren’t privy to the eventual epilogue of how this recent legislation will really play out, but we’ve had a preview of it in Perry County, Alabama, and the reviews have not been good.

Representative Canfield (1:14 mark in video on regulation of CA), Senator Marsh and our state regulatory agencies supported this legislation as “protective of Alabama’s environment and people” and believing that coal ash has beneficial uses so it can’t be that toxic. We say their claims are about as harmless as the elderberry wine served to unsuspecting gentleman callers in the movie.

For a parallel view, brought into sharp focus by Massachusetts Representative Ed Markey in the video below, you would have to go back to the turn of the century, when arsenic and mercury were considered beneficial ingredients in tooth compounds and beauty products by the general public who didn’t know any better. There were many deaths that resulted from people using them to improve their complexions and relieve pain, and it became obvious, a century ago, what the perils of arsenic and mercury exposure were.

Representative McKinley-WV offers the counterpoint to Rep. Markey and claims that any criticism of the "jobs bill" is "fallacious and found in tabloids, not in science." Who's paying him to be so disingenuous? To suggest the undoing of historical lessons learned and pass weak prohibitions on arsenic and mercury exposure from coal ash is like mandating cocaine to be put back into Coca-Cola for general consumption. We know better.

When it comes to properly classifying coal ash, we’re stuck in a semi-permanent intermission to strictly regulate it as a hazardous toxic waste, because the utility giants and coal lobby refuse to leave the Washington concession counter and let the story play out to its honest conclusion.

Since the legislation passed in the Alabama State House, the two main players in this story have been *awarded accolades by ADEM for their outstanding roles in coal ash legislation. We'll see a replay of the tragedy of Perry County as ADEM proclaims the bill puts "Alabama on the national radar for any company interested in" dumping their coal ash in in this state. Again.
*AEMC meeting 7/23/2011 pg.1 (pgs.1-4) pg. 2 (pgs.5-8)
ADEM CanField/Marsh Recognition

We suspect there were a few behind the scenes directors hired by Alabama Power to urge ADEM to give these two representatives their public ‘award.’ Representative Canfield went on to an even bigger stage as the new head of the Alabama Development Office, and a much cushier salary than the one he enjoyed as a state representative. Canfield benefits nicely from the quasi-governmental alliance created by the merging of the EDPA and the ADO, which Alabama Power plays a starring role in. Senator Marsh may go on to replace the embattled and disgraced Senator Scott Beason as the new senatorial lion in charge of all future Alabama legislation.

Collusion has its rewards and we submit that the entire coal ash scheme was the end result of a collaborative effort between ADEM, Alabama Power and these two representatives to advance all of their interests, profits and own careers over the rights of Alabamians expectations to live free from toxic exposure.
Some of the heavy metals contained in coal ash are known carcinogens (and can actually increase the risk of cancer by 2,000 percent) and some can cause learning disabilities, birth defects or respiratory trouble. Problem is, the most deadly types of health-related issues caused by these substances don't develop overnight, says Dr. Avner Vengosh, a Duke University scientist who studied the impact of the coal ash spill in Tennessee. "I'm not expecting to see an immediate impact on people's health," he says, adding it could take years for certain cancers to metastasize.
To put it all in focus and project the truth on the screen of the public view, run this previous article of ours through your mental projector, and view the behind-the-scenes cut that the cast of characters involved in this horror flick didn’t want you to see.

So Say We The Opinion Board Of The Vincent Alabama Confidential
*Photo credit: Classicfilmsrevisted
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Black Water Don't keep On Rollin'--Jim Walter Mine Coal Slurry Spill in Fayette County, Alabama

On Friday July 15, 2011, at the Jim Walter Mine North River Steam Coal Mine in Fayette County, Alabama, a sensor failed to shut off the coal slurry pumping system for an estimated four hours, resulting in toxic waste being discharged into Freeman Creek. The creek flows into North River and on downstream to Lake Tuscaloosa and into the drinking water supply for the City of Tuscaloosa.

Here's a picture of how the water in the *North River usually appears:

Here's how it looks *post spill:

The Alabama Surface Mining Commission's (ASMC) Randy Jackson is assuring viewers that the "sediment will not be harmful" and "it will wind up in Lake Tuscaloosa and settle out there." It should be noted that neither Mr. Jackson or anyone else at the ASMC have any authority over water issues. They're not experts, but they'll try and portray themselves as them on TV.

ADEM's spokesman Scott Hughes says he notified the Tuscaloosa Water Department to "monitor its water" and says "the water is safe to drink."

Dennis Hall, JW North Mine spokesman is quoted as saying this about the spill: "It's like it rained and piles of mud slid into the water."

Everybody involved is attempting to downplay the spill as nothing to be concerned about. 

They're dead wrong and what we should worry about is why they want to mislead us about the dangers of what is really in that 'harmless' slurry:

Below is a list of chemicals found in coal slurry and sludge:

Benzyl alcohol
Butyl benzyl phthalate
Dibutyl phtalate
Diethyl phthalate
Dimethyl phthalate
4-Bromophenyl phenyl ether
4-Chhlorophenyl phenyl ether

Specific Elements and Compounds
Source: Kentucky Division of Water. DOW-DES Analytical Data File.
Electronic File: Martin Co.Coal.Co.Slurry Release Data.xls

Jim Walter Resources (aka Walter Energy) is not a small company bringing in peanuts for profit. In the first quarter of 2011, the company brought in higher than 2010 profits of $408.7 million. It's a hugely successful company with money to burn who springs generously for some hay bales, a few truckloads of gravel and near-site pumping to mediate their spill of 'no consequence' in Fayette County.

We would like to ask ABC 33/40 why they did not check out these claims of 'no big deal' before they ran their story on the incident. By not doing that, what we're left with is propaganda and half-truths, and even more reasons to view Walter Energy as an extensively problematic operation in Alabama.

Shame on all of them.
*Photo credits Tuscaloosa News and: psellers
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Thursday, July 14, 2011

New York Times: "An Alabama State Senator as Polarizing as the Issues" Senator Scott Beason-R

Story by: Campbell Robertson
Published on page A13 of the NYT July 13, 2011
GARDENDALE, Ala. — Newspaper editorials have called him treasonous. The N.A.A.C.P. has called for his resignation. Chamber of commerce groups and civil libertarians have found common cause in disgruntlement, and a Republican sheriff more or less accused him of being an accessory to any deaths that take place in his county. 

Matt Fabian, the managing director for Municipal Market Advisors, said that for years there has been a mutual understanding among investors, bond issuers and politicians that contracts and debts would be honored, no matter what it took. The rise of Mr. Beason and other anti-tax hawks has threatened that understanding, he said. 

“He is the embodiment of that trend that we worry about,” said Mr. Fabian, who has been advising investors to be wary of buying any Alabama debt. 

In the end, Mr. Beason’s biggest liability may rise from his attempt in the casino case, as he described it on the witness stand, to “do whatever I could to help get the bad guys.” Already irked that he wore a wire in closed caucus meetings, some Republicans say that the fallout has seriously jeopardized his leadership of the rules committee, not to mention his future political ambitions.

Read more here

Politics and FBI snitches make for strange bedfellows. The worse the politics, the higher the snitch’s value. Usually.

The FBI focuses its statistics of effectiveness on power, lies and corruption. And politicians are always generous when it comes to scandal. Some are generous when it comes to being turncoats on their own party members.

Kickbacks. Treachery. Buffoonery. All courtesy of “The Candidate-esque” Senator Scott Beason and his greedy band of legislative brothers, like Rep. Barry Mask-R and former Rep.Terry Spicer-D, currently the Superintendent of Elba Schools, along with a few other assorted elected crooks officials. The bed of lies and payola being uncovered in Montgomery is messier than a two-day old hotel room during spring break, but it’s turning out some interesting couplings in Alabama politics that are sure to result in future check-ins at the Hotel Fed before it’s all done.

A few careers will crackle out and political derailment is all but certain for the main player: Senator Beason, who in his zeal to play an under-handed game of gotcha, wound up twisting in his own cover.

For those lucky enough to live outside of the state of Corruptabubba, the following video is a primer on the background of gambling in Alabama, Bingo Bob, smarmy politicians and the decades-old deceit galore that brings us to the trial now going on in Montgomery.

There are connections to indicted criminals MichaelScanlon, a former Riley press secretary, and Jack Abramoff, Riley *email pal, that are difficult to tune out. In a separate report, from Countdown on MSNBC, Senator John McCain became part of the Abramoff/Riley story with McCain acting as a 'protector' for Mr. Riley and his Abramoff tie. (*2:28 mark video link)

The trial in Montgomery is yanking back the sheets on all the dirty dealings from Goat Hill. Potentially explosive scandals, double-dealing and deceit are all being uncovered through the clandestine wire recordings--making for some 'high value' and intriguing pillow talk via the snitches that got in bed with the feds.

Senator Beason tried to parlay his value as an FBI snitch into something more. 

It was a gamble that didn't pay off.

Photo credit: Keating's Desk
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sustainable Ecosystems and Community News--Book Review: "Currents of Deceit"

Amazon.com one-click ordering

On April 20, 2010, the infamous BP oil rig exploded. Americans and the rest of the world alike were in shock and feared how much oil would be released and how much damage it would do. After three months, the spillage of the oil was stopped and restoration has slowly begun. But what if there was a spill of something invisible and the company responsible wanted to keep it a secret. In the book Currents of Deceit, Professor Ronald Perkins writes about such a situation.

Currents of Deceit begins with Scott Simmons, a marine biologist with the Florida Fisheries Commission, and his girlfriend Linda Stevens, a graduate student in biochemistry. Perkins also wrote himself into the book as Dr. Alexander, Linda’s old professor, a character based on his own experiences and interests. In the book, Simmons and Stevens find unusually high levels of PCBs and mercury in fish from the local market They are immediately intrigued and worried by their discovery.

Read more here

Would a company purposefully and knowingly keep a dangerous environmental and public health threat secret in the name of profit? It's a rhetorical question of course because it happens all the time with pernicious consequences. What happens when the governmental regulatory agency, the EPA, participates in this kind of subterfuge by relying on powerful lobbying groups and industry insiders to be the 'scientific' sources for regulatory mandates?

We've seen this happen with coal ash and bio-solids (sewer sludge). The federal regulations for both of these were based on the recommendations of powerful lobbyists for special interests who's only consideration was the bottom line--the proverbial 'profit over people and sensibility' worn-out model they have been using now for decades.

Now big business has turned its sights on doing away with the only federal regulatory agency that stands between us and a repeat of the flaming rivers of the late 1960s.

The EPA is currently under unprecedented enemy fire from the republicans who are calling for de-funding the agency at minimum, and doing away with it all together at most, describing them as a "loony left-wing job killing organization that's hell bent on an environmentalist whacko vision."

There are problems with the EPA we'll agree, big ones, but to consistently fight against the only agency that we have in place to enforce regulations on corporate America is wrongheaded and dangerous. On the other side of the coin, for the EPA to consistently cave-in to special interests and allow the rules to be written by industry is equally disconcerting.

It's a catch-22 situation that illustrates the pressing need for watchdog journalists, environmental groups and citizen advocates to keep a keen eye on the system and its players. Activism is not a dirty word--apathy and indifference might be.

Winston Churchill warned of the age of indifference (paraphrasing): 
'You can only have so many decades and years that are the "last chance" to avoid unalterably horrific effects. We have already passed these points. The age of consequences has begun.'

We would be wise to remember that even though Mr. Perkins book is a 'fictional work' in the literal sense, malefic corporate "Currents of Deceit" are always swirling around our communities and it's incumbent upon us to pay attention.
*Recommended reading:
Paving Paradise: Florida's Vanishing Wetlands and the Failure of "No Net Loss"
"The Ripple Effect": The Fate of Fresh Water in the Twenty-first Century
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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Long-time Alabama Lobbyist Massey Admits "I Am A Criminal"

Tweet from BingoTrial coverage Kyle Whitmire/Second Front

Lobbyists call their profession "honorable and responsible" despite what the public overwhelmingly thinks about the industry. Alabama lobbying is a cottage industry of huge monetary proportions and undue influence on an epic scale. No one trusts these paid mouthpieces and suspect they play fast and loose with the law as a rule, not the exception.

Jarrod Massey admits what he is and what he has been doing as a lobbyist.

Massey's revelation on the stand in the gambling trial may only apply to his actions involving bingo corruption, but since he has other clients and he admits acting "corruptly" on behalf of one client, was he doing the same with all the others? It's a fair question.

Whether or not the indicted Jarrod Massey can be considered a credible witness is open for debate, but what he admits to confirms the impression of Alabama lobbyists by most of the general public--they're probably closer to being paid crooks and liars than they are honorable representatives who operate above board in their endeavors.

Many of them have been paid with state dollars i.e. taxpayer funds, which is all the more reason they deserve much harsher scrutiny than the legislature is willing to implement on their activities. 

The same old brand new goats on the hill had a chance to rein in the monetary persuading by passing a reporting requirement on lobbyists funds and expenditures when they enacted the "toughest ethics laws in the nation" last December. Predictably, and likely at the urging of the lobbyists, that requirement was removed from the final version of the ethics laws.

This sounds like a perfect opportunity to take a closer look at Jarrod Massey and his clients for at least the last decade. In fact, let's go one step further and examine the entire system of Alabama lobbyists while we're at it and see how just deep the criminality runs.

Our guess is any honest examination of the system would overload the courts with cases in subsequent indictments. It would be money and time well spent considering the potential benefit on our political process. Isn't "rooting out corruption" one of the grand promises our lawmakers told us they went to Montgomery for?

If they cannot or will not do this, then as far as we are concerned the "Handshake with Alabama" is not "a promise kept" it's a promise denied.

So Say We The Opinion Board of The Vincent Alabama Confidential
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Monday, July 11, 2011

Churnalism, Inc. and the North Birmingham Walter Coke Contamination

In an editorial from the Birmingham News on July 9, 2011, once again the editorial board missed the mark of accuracy, and either failed to gather the known facts or purposefully spun the the issue of the Walter Coke contamination in north Birmingham. Either way, the idea of verify first and print second is absent in our state media.

The editorial started out in the right direction and raised the importance of testing new and proposed school sites before construction begins. It's unthinkable that the Birmingham School Board and the City of Birmingham would embark on erecting a new school, especially in an area of years of heavy industry, without doing an environmental assessment first. They were forewarned about the existing problems as far back as 1989.

An ounce of prevention would have been well worth the proverbial pound of cure for students attending the Hudson K-8 school in Collegeville. The CBS 42 series "Deadly Deception" (DD) has been following the Walter Coke contamination story in north Birmingham for months now, and once again, print media is slow to catch up to the fast moving train of hard-hitting investigative reporting that CBS 42 has led with.

What makes the mistakes by the BNED so disappointing is that CBS' series has done the work for them, and all it takes to run an accurate editorial is to spend a little time looking through the video reports from Sherri Jackson and Ken Lass, lead reporters for the DD series. We wonder if they even bothered, based on their editorial, and hope that they did not rely too heavily on press releases and conversations with Walter Coke and Birmingham officials in forming their print opinion.

Here's what they got wrong:
"Walter Coke has been under an EPA enforcement order since 1989, so the agency can require Walter Coke to perform testing and cleanup, which the company is doing voluntarily now."
When you are under an enforcement order, clean up is not voluntary. It's ordered, as in you have to do this. Walter Coke has spit out the same angle; "we are doing the remediation on our own motivation to be a good neighbor." 
"-- arsenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or benzo(a)pyrene -- are associated with Walter Coke," said the EPA's Brian Holtzclaw, although a spokesman for the company said they can come from a number of sources, "even nonindustrial sources, other than us."
Still, Walter Coke is doing its part and voluntarily paying to replace soil at Hudson K-8 and residential properties in the area where high levels of contamination were found. 
'Voluntarily doing their part' is a repetition of repeating the illusion that the company is 'doing the right thing just because.' It's interesting they allow the company to slip in the possibility that 'something else' may be causing the contamination besides the coke plant that has been operating at that site since 1967. Walter Coke even went so far as to blame the residents in the area for some of the contamination in previous correspondence with the EPA, read: "non-industrial sources." CBS included those documents in their series, all it would have taken to find them was for someone on the BNED to bother to look.
While Birmingham school officials said they didn't know about the contamination and didn't conduct environmental tests, they should know better now.
Yes they should, but they did know and CBS 42 made that clear in their previous segments on DD. Birmingham School Superintendent, Dr. Craig Witherspoon knew about the contamination in 2010, according to a document from the EPA, and he did nothing to inform the parents despite being asked to do so. The City of Birmingham also had to know prior to construction because of the 1989 order from the EPA documenting the contamination in the area. Why is the editorial board unable to put two and two together and report it decorously?
The most recent soil tests at Hudson showed "unacceptable levels" of contamination, said Holtzclaw, which led Walter Coke to strip out six inches of soil, put down a vapor barrier, fill in with new soil and resod the contaminated area. Soil testing will continue. 
The contaminated soil can and should be replaced we agree, but if the source of the contamination persists recontamination of the 'new soil' is certain and inevitable. Considering that it took decades for action to begin on any remedial action, it's not a stretch to presume additional remediation will not be timely.
 "If the pollution is coming to the soil...you can clean up that individual soil. but it's still going to be getting dirty and polluted so you gotta look at the source of the air pollution."---Dr. Anne Turner-Henson. 
Despite the residents calling for the school to be closed, the EPA is incredulously claiming that's not necessary, and the residents remain unhappy with the over-their-heads technical speak coming from the Jefferson County Department of Health:
The level of chemicals found at Hudson doesn't warrant closing the school, Holtzclaw said, but the testing will continue. Meanwhile, the county health department is monitoring air quality to make sure the school and surrounding areas are safe. 
Completely glossed over and absent from the editorial was the statement of EPA official Holtzclaw who said he was "shocked" that the Hudson K-8 school was built on ground that the EPA had already deemed contaminated. As far as the surrounding areas being safe, that's wide open for debate too, and we'll put that monkey squarely on the back of the EPA who has a nasty habit of raising the levels of acceptable exposure to allow big polluters leeway.

Birmingham News writer Marie Leech included in her story the glaring problem that happens in Alabama and other states, about the lack of a federal mandate that cities test for contamination before building new schools:
For most states, including Alabama, "EPA has recognized over the years that there were no guidelines or oversight when it came to the safety of building school properties," Holtzclaw said.
That led the EPA in November to establish a set of voluntary guidelines for school sites that suggests site reviews, environmental reviews and public involvement.
Environmental testing before schools are built is not required in Alabama, officials say, which could lead to more problems like the one at Hudson. 
The BNED did take issue with the nonsense of not testing first, but why did they let the city officials who knew off the hook? If there is something upsetting in this whole ordeal that ought to rank high on the list, although the EPA and ADEM are the most deserving of harsh criticism because they knew first and did nothing for decades. The EPA added insult to injury and failed miserably in making recommendations "voluntary" not federal requirements. However, even if there had been mandatory guidelines, Alabama would have found some way to challenge the legality of it, preventing adoption of the rules until the lengthy legal battle ran it's course.
Bob Morgan director of capitol projects for city schools gets dangerously close to sounding like an utter incompetent when he feigns 'whadda ya want from me, nobody said anything': 
Morgan said several community meetings were held when plans for the new school were being drafted, and nobody raised any concerns.
"In fact, everybody in the community said they wanted a new school," he said. "As long as we have people living in the community and sending their children to school, we have to provide them a school to go to." 
No one in the community knew they were living in a carcinogenic soup Mr. Morgan or they would have raised the same concerns (and hell) they are raising right now. But the city and state knew. Did you know too? Is it appropriate for you to assign any blame to parents for wanting new schools for their children to attend? We cry foul on that and you too, sir.

The worst transgression continues to be the blase attitude of our media who fail to get the facts straight and present honest stories on matters of tremendous public interest in a timely manner. The information was there since 1989 why didn't anyone in the print media find it?

The new motto of the Birmingham News is "this is our story" and they've taken some flack from some who felt the motto would have been better suited to 'this is your story.' Many are now distrustful of the News and their trend in recent years of filtering news stories with a biased interest, slanted in favor of business, established politicians and deference for certain advertisers endeavors.

Their position seems to have shifted to a predetermined discourse on particular issues  that doesn't rock the boat too hard and create a spillage of revenue dollars. Or political tempers. 

What took them so long to offer an opinion about the contamination in north Birmingham, and once they did, why does the BNED 'voluntarily' swing at the issue with velvet gloves and allow Walter Coke, the Birmingham School Board and city leaders some leeway? We suspect it's rooted in the bending of news stories and editorials to fit news values, political interests and media logic--the new norm in the age of press releases from governmental and corporate propagandists permeating news rooms.

The end result is more 'churnalism' than journalism.

Children continually being exposed to deadly toxins and city leaders acting dangerously irresponsible is not an issue to come late to reporting on, and if you are going to be tardy, at least make every effort to be 'dressed appropriately' in accuracy.

Anything less is not the real story.
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