Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A River of Influence Runs Through It

"Coal Ash in the Coosa Valley"
Coosa Riverkeeeper's Frank Chitwood, takes us on an eye-opening ride through a section of Alabama's Coosa River and the effects of "dirty, dirty coal" from Alabama Power's two coal fired power plants on the historic waterway

Ironically, the capture of the Coosa by Alabama Power translated into another form of pollution affecting Alabamaians--a usurping of our political process by one of the most generous political donors and strongest lobbying forces in the history of Alabama.

When Alabama Power says “It’s always on,” they’re talking about more than energy; they’re describing their tireless and unending efforts to control the Alabama legislature and our regulatory agencies, and to continue their pollution of the once-beautiful Coosa River.

Every year, when Alabama’s legislature meets, APCO’s there, a de facto “shadow government” that serves their corporate interests first, the legislature second, and the citizens last.

How do they do it? By lobbying, political influence, horse-trading, and lots of cash and favors for the people whose votes and decisions affect the people of Alabama in ways many eyes-wide-open but unseeing people don't fully grasp.

Alabama Power's 'absolute power' began over a century ago, back when the mighty Coosa meandered freely through Alabama for centuries until the early 1900's, when three men changed the course of the river, and Alabama's history forever. The vision of William P. Lay, James Mitchell and Thomas Martin, and what was to become Alabama Power, wrestled the Coosa away from the citizens of the state and imprisoned the river to the utility giant's command.

They've not been good stewards of the river despite the bounty of monetary richness the Coosa has provided to Alabama Power for decades. What we've gotten in return is the erecting of an iron curtain around Alabama, effectively shutting out any 'consumer benefits' competition in electric service providers. We've gotten pollution that ranks Alabama at eight out of fifteen for the dirtiest air in the nation according to a recent report from the Environmental Integrity Project 

And we've gotten a form of government that owes their political careers to the demands of the power company. Few politicians have shown the fortitude to stand up to the smokestack bullies and put the interests (and health) of Alabamians before the wants of Alabama Power.

During a fight over rate increases in the late 1970's, The Times, a newspaper that served the black community, ran an account of the experience of one low-income father and his run-in with the power company:
The Times, a Black Montgomery newspaper, quoted a local man, "I have four children. It was about the coldest day of the year when they (power company workmen) came out and cut off my electricity.

"I had not received a light bill. I went down to the office and wanted to pay half of my bill, and they refused me.

"I told them that I had not received my bill, and they said it was my mistake-not theirs.

"I didn't have anywhere to take my family that night, and one of my daughters caught the flu. She almost died," he said.

After that night, he said, his family began using kerosene lamps for light.
The annals of Alabama's history are overflowing with stories of that nature, stories that continue unabated in the modern day. If you're unlucky enough to fall on hard times, and have your electric service cut off, the average cost to have it restored runs upwards of $500, a huge, and often unreachable sum for most economically disadvantaged groups.

The Coosa River has a diligent watchdog in the efforts of Frank Chitwood. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the watchdog agency that serves as the only barrier between the citizens of Alabama and APCO.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) is charged with regulating APCO and they've done very little over the years to reign in the company's harsh business practices. In fact, the PSC has long been viewed as being in league with the company first, contrary to their mission statement of 'fairness' to the rate payers of Alabama.

PSC member Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh serves as a prime example of APCO's ability to influence the commission. Cavanuagh took to the editorial pages earlier this year publicly blasting the proposed EPA regulations on coal fired power plants. She called climate change a "medicine-show tonic of global warming" and made a lot of outlandish and less-than-factual statements designed to garner public support for APCO.

Her claims were based solely on a power point presentation given by APCO. Bama Fact Check researched her rhetoric and found little evidence to support any of them. Of course she's not the only PSC member to act more like an APCO lobbyist than public servant, candidates now vying for a seat on the commission are spouting off the same old tired spiel that the power company has been peddling for years.

If you were to gather up all of the 'unofficial lobbyists' for APCO in one place and then asked to pick the ones that carry 'the water' for the power company, you'd be looking at the entire membership of the Alabama legislature.

But that's the nature of coal, utility companies, politics and undue influence in Alabama--it's always on.
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  1. Like the play on Hollywood movie title and water. The video is professionally done and a good mark for Coosa Riverkeeper. Well done.
    I can remeber back some years ago when Alabama Power made a deal with HUD to make all public and low-income housing go electric instead of a mix of gas and electric.
    They promised customers would benefit from lower bills and credits for taking them up on their offer.
    It never worked out to anyone's benefit but Alabama Power's. Par usual.
    The Coosa is ruined, for all time I fear. That doesn't mean it should be degraded any further from big industry and utility giants complete lack of respect for water quality and responsibility.
    Keep fighting the good fight Mr. Chitwood.

  2. Have you enviros donated to your Waterkeepers/Riverkeepers lately?
    If you haven't no time like right now!

  3. AP flings more money to politicians through its PACS, lawyer and lobbyists that is never recorded or accounted for it's impossible to know how much they really spend buying Alabama.
    Whatever the amount it's worked.
    Not a damn thing happens in Alabama if McCrary doesn't give it his blessing.

  4. Great article.
    Great video.
    Excellent efforts by both!

  5. I wonder what kind of psychotic personalities find glee in fleecing poor people and playing puppet-master to the political doings of a whole state?
    On second thought, I don't. I know.

  6. Governor Bentley wasted no time loading up his administration with power boy crowd. Big campaign donations usually do buy the best positions in government.
    The same thing goes on in all the other states though, just look at the northeast where Duke and Wisconsin Energy rule. Ca. Con Edison. Power generation is powerful money.

  7. Dirty Alabama in air, water, land, politics, history, justice and education system and citizen's rights.
    Glad I left.
    I do feel sorry for those who cannot.

  8. Below are excerpts from a May 16, 2010 news article by Mary Orndorff that appeared in the Birmingham News. In a nutshell, the Wilsonville coal ash ponds are a ticking time Alabama has nine ash ponds covering more than 2,300 acres. A.P. knows this and is desperately trying to prevent the public from knowing about it.

    Pay close attention to the very last sentence from the news article excerpt below.

    Those ponds contain more than 24 million cubic yards of coal ash. Figure were not available for a tenth pond, in Wilsonville, in Shelby County....

    In the ponds, ash is mixed with water so the contaminants sink to the bottom for safekeeping.
    It is safekeeping, of course, unless a dam ruptures or a pond leaks into the groundwater, which is why the EPA is cracking down. Neither has been a problem at Alabama's 10 ponds, the three utility companies that operate them said in documents they sent to the EPA....

    But the EPA wants to be sure and, depending on the agency's final course of action, those ponds could have to be retrofitted with liners or eventually shut down and replaced with other types of storage, such as in dry form in liner-protected landfills. There also would be stepped-up monitoring of groundwater near the ponds....

    Coal ash contains several dangerous materials, including arsenic, that can cause cancer and other serious health effects if they contaminate drinking-water wells....

    Alabama Power Co. disclosed information about coal ash storage sites at five of its six plants.
    Although the company originally argued that some of the details -- including size, volume and capacity -- were confidential for business and security reasons, the EPA overruled the company and published the information. Information on a sixth plant, Gaston in Wilsonville, was submitted separately and will remain confidential unless the EPA decides otherwise.

  9. Only two in December?? Try harder!!

    We miss y'all and have a Merry Happy Holidays & Happy Merry New Years!

  10. Maybe only two but they sure were good ones!
    Miss the team myself.


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