History of Mississippi Power Southern Company Lignite Plant

It is enlightening to look back at the process, thoughts, and players in the early plans of Kemper County Lignite Coal Plant.

Worth the risk?

Some Kemper County residents have health and environmental concerns over proposed mine

By Georgia E. Frye / staff writer

Just outside Barbara Correro’s rural Kemper County home is an organic garden, where you can see various species of waterfowl and farm animals that provide sustenance for herself, her family and her friends.

But Correro and her daughter, Nancy, fear their organic way of life may be disrupted if a coal plant is constructed within 12 miles of their homes.

“More than anything, their argument with us is that this is a clean gasification plant,” Nancy said. “But to cut through it all, there is still going to be a 180-foot-deep hole cut down and then they are going to swath out the land. Where are the animals going to go? Where are you going to go fishing?”

The proposed coal gasification plant would be constructed in the Liberty community in Kemper County. The plant would be built 6 or 7 miles north of the Lauderdale County line, between Highway 493 and Highway 495, and south of Old Jackson Road.

Why a mine?

Tommy Pinkerton, an engineer for Mississippi Power and project manager for the proposed plant, said the company will know in early 2008 if it is feasible to build the plant in Kemper County. If it is, construction will begin in the spring of 2010, and would be up and running by 2013.

The plant would turn lignite into a gas for use as a fuel. Lignite, or “brown coal,” is young coal used almost exclusively for electric power generation. It is brownish-black in color and has a high moisture and ash content. It tends to disintegrate when exposed to the weather.

The initial investment in the plant is estimated to be about $1.8 billion, with an annual investment of $200 million to $300 million each year for operation and maintenance of the facility. Mississippi Power Co. received more than $133 million in tax credits from the U.S. Department of Energy for the project as part of the National Energy Policy Act of 2005.

The plant is expected to create about 260 permanent jobs.

Health concerns

Some question whether the much-needed jobs in East Mississippi are worth what some environmental groups believe the plant would do to the environment and the natural heritage of Kemper County.

Kemper County resident Karen Wink’s group, the Coalition for a Greener Mississippi, says the jobs aren’t worth the health risks associated with a coal plant or worth interrupting Mother Nature.

“There is no possibility in the fact that it is a health issue,” Wink said. “Everybody has heard of Black Lung, that’s a respiratory disease from coal dust and it’s not just miners that are affected by this. The rates of asthma in Virginia and Kentucky and the coal mining areas among the population of children in the area are very high. When they pull the coal out, particulate matter gets into the air and it hangs in the air, and when there is more moisture in the air, particulate matter goes up, and obviously, Mississippi is extremely humid.”

But Pinkerton said those health issues are nonexistent with this plant because the lignite is wet when it is pulled out of the ground and no dust particles are present.

“You won’t see any coal dust in a lignite mine,” Pinkerton said. “There are no explosives used and there will be no run off, no slurry pits, nothing going into the streams and no trucks on the highway.”

Differing views

Anthony Topazi, president and chief executive officer of Mississippi Power, said at a December press conference at the Meridian Regional Airport that the technology for the gasification plant was created in Mississippi by the Southern Company, which owns Mississippi Power. He said plans call for the site to be the home of the most advanced, clean coal power plant in the world.

He said instead of burning the coal like is done in a traditional power plant, the coal is heated in the absence of oxygen. The process creates a synthetic gas that is then burned to make power.

But John Wathen, who heads up an environmental watch-dog group, Friends of Hurricane Creek, said the power companies and its cohorts are well-paid to convince people that the plant will not damage the environment.

Wathen said the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 mandates that coal companies reclaim mined land after they are finished extracting the coal. But Wathen doesn’t believe that will happen.

“There is no way you can strip mine without disturbing the environment,” Wathen said. “Once this is done, they are going to have to bring it back to the way it was — that is impossible.”

Wathen’s group, Friends of Hurricane Creek, based in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is part of the Waterkeeper Alliance. His job is to monitor the Hurricane Creek Watershed for pollution. He said in all his experience with mines, he has never seen them turn out to the common citizen’s advantage.

“It is disemboweling the earth, no matter what name you give it,” Wathen said.

Members of another local conservation group, the East Mississippi Foothills Land Trust, which oversees the Chunky Okatibbee Watershed Project, have said they aren’t concerned about the proposed plant.

Melissa Pringle of Eco Systems said last week that the strip mine will follow Department of Environmental Quality guidelines.

But Wathen said he has seen over and over again water pollution caused by coal companies such as high levels of mercury. It is the coal companies, he said, that cause the water to be laden with mercury, which makes eating some fish unsafe for pregnant women because it can harm their unborn child.

A lease on the land

Michael Thomas, manager of land, government and public affairs for the North American Coal Corp., said the Red Hills Mine in Ackerman has not caused any health issues in the area. He said the mine is similar to the proposed plant in Kemper County and is heavily regulated by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which is controlled by the U.S. Department of Labor’s office in Birmingham, Ala.

And while he admitted that the mine will temporarily destroy the surface of the land, the law requires them to reclaim it, which they will do to the land-owners specifications if possible.

Thomas said North American Coal Corp. signs a 25-year lease with property owners for the use of their land. He said if the land owner agrees to lease their property to the coal company, the company notifies them within 180 days of the time they will start mining the land.

“At that time, they can take any crops they may have on the land and sell them,” Thomas said. “But they have to vacate the property.”

He said the company then pays the land owner for the land and any property or improvements they have made to it. He said the coal company pays the landowners royalties for the amount of lignite that would be taken from their land, and when they are done, they reclaim the land and turn it back over to the land owner.

He said for the most part, Kemper County residents have been cooperative. He said they are not required to sign leases with the coal company and if they do not, the company will have to work around them. He said the area in question is around 12,000 acres and about 200 to 300 property owners are involved.

But Wink believes the promise of money and jobs is confusing the real issue, that the mine will forever change the landscape of Kemper County. She said there are other renewable energy sources that Mississippi Power Co. could invest in, such as wind and solar power that could provide much-needed energy while not harming the environment.

But Pinkerton said wind and solar power aren’t feasible in Mississippi because it’s too cloudy and not windy.

Wathen said that’s “hogwash,” however.

“When the sun is not out, the wind is blowing because a storm is coming,” he said. “But as long as the country is run by extractionists, we will never see the advancement of renewable energy sources. You can only extract so much until there is no more, but the sun shines or the wind blows every day.”

TYPES OF MINES

Here’s a look at the different types of surface mines used to extract coal from the ground. The proposed lignite mine in Kemper County would use surface mining — a type of mining in which soil and rock overlying the mineral deposit is removed.

Surface mining is the opposite of

underground mining, in which the overlying rock is left in place and the mineral is removed through shafts and tunnels.

i Strip mining — the practice of mining a seam of mineral by first removing a long strip of overlying soil and rock. It is most commonly used to mine coal or tar sand. Strip mining is only practical when the ore body to be

excavated is relatively near the surface. This type of mining uses some of the largest machines on earth, including bucket-wheel excavators which can move as much as 12,000 cubic feet of earth per hour.

i Open-pit mining — a method of extracting rock or minerals from the earth by their removal from an open pit or borrow. Although open-pit mining is sometimes referred to as strip mining, the two methods are different.

i Mountaintop removal — a relatively new form of coal mining that involves the mass restructuring of earth in order to reach the coal seam as deep as 1,000 feet below the surface. It is used where a coal seam outcrops all the way around a mountain top. All the rock and soil above the coal seam are removed and the spoil is placed in adjacent lows such as hollows or ravines.

i Dredging — a method often used to bring up water and mineral deposits, it can also recover significant amounts of underwater

minerals relatively efficiently and cheaply.

Additional Information

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————

THE COAL TRUTH

© H. DAVID SEAWELL/CORBIS

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A West Virginia coal-fired powerplant releasing steam and smokeinto the atmosphere.

Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006 http://www.waterkeeper.org

The alarm clock rings even before the sun crests the horizon. You

rub your eyes, flip on the lights, maybe start the coffee pot or turn on the

radio or TV, power up the computer… Your day begins with a surge of energy

consumption that will typically last through the day, only to subside somewhat when the television set is finally switched off in the evening, lights are

dimmed and the house settles down for the night.

But just where is all this electricity coming from?

And is it really just as easy as the flip of a switch?

The Coal Truth

PEOPLE, WATER, ENERGY AND APPALACHIA

By Cindy Rank, West Virginia Headwaters Waterkeeper

Contributors: Beverly Braverman, Tracy Carluccio, Scott Edwards, Vivian Stockman, Terri Taylor, John Wathen and David Whiteside.

http://www.waterkeeper.org Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006

29

THE COAL TRUTH

Dirty Power, Dangerous Air

The United States consumes more energy

than any other country in the world.

Electric utility plants dot our landscape

creating power from a myriad of sources —

nuclear, hydro, wind and fossil fuels — yet fifty

percent of our electricity comes from a source

that mankind has been using for over 1,600

years — coal. Today, the United States is home to

almost 1,100 coal-fired utility units, with much

of our coal being torn from the ground in eastern

coal-producing states of Appalachia. And there

are plans to add hundreds more coal-fired power

plants in the coming years. Why? Because coal is

cheap – or at least that’s what we’re told by

industry and by our government. But how

“cheap” is it really? Are we being told the whole

story about the true cost of coal? What goes on

behind King Coal’s black curtain?

Appalachian residents bear the brunt of the health Coal must be mined, transported, washed,

impacts from our reliance on coal transported again, stored, burned and converted

to the electricity that flows through transmis-

The nation is facing a health crisis from coal-fired power plant pollution. EPA has used sion lines and into our homes. Each step of the

research from the American Cancer Society, Harvard School of Public Health and other process is rife with hidden economic and social

research institutions to predict how many premature deaths are caused in the U.S. each year costs, shady backroom politics and harmful

by coal-fired power plant pollution. Clear The Air used this data to develop this map and a impacts on human and environmental health.

power plant pollution locator (available at http://www.cleartheair.org/dirtypower/) that It is a myth that recent technological advances

allows you to get the facts about your state. have somehow solved all the problems associated with the use of coal to power our world.

Energy companies have cast an illusion that the bad days of dangerous mining and dirty burning are over: that strong laws are in place

and law abiding King Coal is strictly following the law. Nothing could

be farther from the truth.

The truth is, there is nothing “cheap” or “clean” about coal. The

cost of burning coal for electricity is far beyond what Americans outside of the coalfields ever consider or imagine. It is not reflected in

this month’s utility bill, but in devastated lives and communities,

forests and streams across Appalachia. It is a price we all pay in poisoned waterways and lost cultural and natural heritage.

Extraction

Mining has always been a dangerous mess. In the 1980’s machines

and mining practices developed in the wide-open space, and 100foot thick coal seams of Wyoming were brought east to the steep

hills of the Appalachian Mountains. These practices are unaccept-

Picking Up

Steam able anywhere, but in Appalachia they proved downright apocalyptic. Longwall mining replaced traditional underground mining

while mountaintop removal mining took the place of strip mining.

In the U.S., more than 90 percent of the coal produced is used to Each of these practices is far more massive in scale, requires fewer

generate electricity. And despite its ancient origins and toxic legacy, miners and chews up much more earth; these new technologies for

coal is the fastest growing source of energy. Worldwide coal extracting coal have raised the level of destruction to new heights.

consumption has increased 25 percent over last four years.

Coal-fired power plants produce 52% of our nation’s electricity.

Pollution from power plants cuts short the lives of nearly 24,000

Americans nationwide every year.

Coalfields of Appalachia

30

Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006 http://www.waterkeeper.org

TERRI TAYLOR

Longwall Underground Mining

Most coal today is mined underground, and much of

that comes from longwall mining operations where

huge (1,500 feet or wider) toothed machines tear into the

ground, chewing out all the coal in one to two mile under-

Longwall panels are lined upseparated by un-mined “gates”

where the surface remains

supported. Subsidence averagesthree to five feet. Each panel is up to1,500 feet wide and two miles long.

ground swaths, called panels. The cut coal falls onto a conveyor for removal to the surface.

In traditional deep mining, pillars of coal were left to

support the earth, leaving the surface relatively unaffected. Longwall mines, in contrast, remove virtually all the

coal in the seam. Armadillo-like steel plates support the

earth while machine operators shear away the coal. The

machine excavates all the coal and moves forward

through the seam, allowing the earth to drop into the void

left behind. Removing six feet of coal leaves the surface

unsupported. The ground sinks, leaving in its wake broken homes and poisoned wells, sucking water out of

springs and farm ponds, drying up streams. Industry calls

this “planned subsidence.” Affected communities know it

as total destruction.

TERRI TAYLOR TERRI TAYLOR TERRI TAYLOR TERRI TAYLOR BILL SCHIFF

TERRI TAYLOR

The Thomas B. Kent, Jr. Farm is a 102-acre Pennsylvania farm with an 1850 brick and stone farmhouselisted on the National Register of Historic Places. The property was undercut by longwall mining in the1990s. 540,000 tons of coal was removed from under the farm’s property, generating millions of dollarsof revenue for the coal company, but leaving the home, creek and streams destroyed.

The coal company shored up the house before the longwall operation passed underneath. However,

subsidence left the foundation cracked and destroyed the spring-fed pond, leaving no source of potablewater for drinking or farming.

http://www.waterkeeper.org Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006

31

THE COAL TRUTH

MARK HERSH/RAYMOND PROFFITT FND.

The mining companies excuse the

devastation by arguing that it’s best to

get the subsidence over quickly, rather

than wait for the mines to cave slowly

over the next 50 years or so. People living with the aftermath will tell you the

shifting, cracking and settling permanently impacts homes, waterways and

the lives of those who live over these

operations. Although precautions are

taken to protect homes, i.e. by boarding

up walls, taping windows, digging wide

moats around the foundations to lessen

the impact of the shifting and heaving

earth as it settles into its new repose,

foundations crack and windows break.

Homeowners have no control as coal

companies control the rights to coal

under their property.

As the underground riches are stripped

away, property values plummet and residents are left to pick up the pieces.

Subsidence turns narrow, quick-running streamsinto sediment-clogged pools, suffocating aquaticlife and changing groundwater-fed streams intostormwater ditches.

Under hundreds of square miles of

Pennsylvania’s Greene and Washington

Counties, longwall mining leaves the Earth’s

surface unsupported. Longwall mining dam-

ages entire watersheds, depriving the land

and its occupants of springs, streams, ponds

and wells, creating an environmental disaster

of local and national importance.

This 15-minute documentary portrays the

experience of two families as they struggle to

cope with extensive longwall subsidence

damage to their historic homesteads.

Written and directed by Emmy Award

winning journalist Terri Taylor. Produced by

the Raymond Proffitt Foundation. Funding

provided by The Heinz Endowments.

Info & screening copies: Ten Mile Protection

Network, info@tmpn.org, 724-267-4633

A revealing documentary exposing the impacts and

legacy of longwall mining.

SUBSIDED GROUND… FALLEN FUTURES

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Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006 http://www.waterkeeper.org

Mountaintop Removal Mining

A massive dragline, dwarfed by the hugescale of the operation, at work on amountaintop removal operation nearKayford Mountain, WV.

VIVIAN STOCKMAN THANKS TO SOUTHWINGS

Where strip mining involves clearing

away the layer of earth above a seam to

access coal deposits, mountaintop removal is

strip mining on steroids. It means complete

deconstruction of once ecologically diverse

and verdant mountains, the suffocation of biologically rich headwater streams and the displacement of generations-old communities.

In central Appalachia, hills are steep and

valleys narrow. Coal seams are layered

throughout these mountains much like the

frosting in a multi-tiered layer cake, proving

often difficult to deep mine. Until the mid1980’s miners used traditional deep mining to

remove the thicker seams of coal that honeycombed the steep mountains and traditional

surface mining to expose and remove the

outer edges of the thinner seams close to the

surface around the sides of the mountains.

Technological advances have hit

Appalachia like a sledgehammer. Today, huge

Politics

Over Public Interest

The 2005 Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on mountaintop removal mining –

a legally required government study begun in 1998 in response to litigation by local citizens –

is a prime example of politics over public interest. The purpose of the study was to explore

ways to limit the impact of mountaintop removal mining. But while the government

included extensive scientific research documenting damage of this practice to communities

and the environment, and in the face of 80,000 public comments against this practice, the

Bush administration used the study to endorse mountaintop removal, and recommend

streamlining the permitting process.

http://www.waterkeeper.org Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006

33

THE COAL TRUTH

VIVIAN STOCKMAN

mining machines tear away at mountaintops, first blasting apart the

uppermost layers of rock, pushing it into valley streams below to

expose a seam of coal and then bulldozing the coal into huge trucks to

be transported to preparation plants.

The process is repeated over and over again until at last the entire

mountain (often 600 – 1,000 feet) has been dismantled, all the coal

removed (often 6 to 15 different seams), and the leftover millions of

tons of rock and debris that now fill the stream valleys are “sculpted”

into short flat or sloped hills.

Over 800 square miles of the most productive and diverse temperate hardwood forests no longer exist. Twelve hundred miles of streams

have been buried or otherwise impacted by these operations.

Groundwater – perched aquifers that once fed mountain springs and

replenished streams in dry times – have been eliminated, ancient

mountaintops replaced with rubble and rock that has been put

through the giant mix-master of modern day mining, spit out and

bulldozed into sterile, manmade moonscapes.

Mountaintop removal mining has already turned hundreds of

thousands of acres of Appalachia’s mountains into a barren wasteland. Lives are destroyed as families are uprooted and forced to move,

communities disappear and a chain

of generations living from the land is

broken. No one can question that

moving mountains has a certain godlike quality about it. But these

arguably amazing engineering feats

have consequences of unbelievable

Valley fills are created when waste rock is dumped from the mining area intonearby stream valley – sometimes over two miles long. This is a picture of asmall valley fill in its early stages. The pond at the toe of the fill is meant toprevent sediment from entering the rest of the stream. Fills underconstruction often contribute to downstream flooding when rains rush offthe denuded mining area above overwhelming the ponds and causing themto break or overflow.

proportion.

The Definition of Fill

In 2001, King Coal found itself faced with a federal district court

VIVIAN STOCKMAN

ruling that would have shut down mountaintop mining operations

all across West Virginia as a violation of the Clean Water Act. King

Coal’s response was to immediately cash in some of its political

markers and get its cronies in the Bush Administration to change

how EPA and Army Corps of Engineers define a single word in

the Act, the word “fill.” Changing the definition of fill effectively

insulated the industry from any further Clean Water Act attacks and

negated the court’s decision, allowing the coal industry to continue

burying Appalachian streams and valleys with mine waste and

rubble without interruption.

Now, Washington’s eagerness to kowtow to the coal industry is

having far-reaching implications in other areas of the country where

industry wants to use our waterways as unpermitted waste disposal

sites. In Alaska, gold mining companies are taking advantage of this

bureaucratic, regulatory change to dump waste from gold

mines into nearby lakes. Only time will tell how many other

industries will jump on the regulatory bandwagon and fill our

nation’s waterways with their toxic mess.

Poisoned water discharged belowa coal sludge impoundment.

Stream Buffer Zone Rule

Under the 1977 Surface Mining Control and

Reclamation Act, the Buffer Zone Rule prohibits

mining within 100 feet of intermittent or

perennial streams. Insisting the rule was never

meant to prevent the dumping of millions of

tons of waste rock from mining operations into

headwater streams, the Federal Office of Surface

Mining has proposed a regulatory change to

“clarify” the rule. A 1998 federal district court

ruling upheld the clear meaning of the rule, but

was returned to the state courts on

jurisdictional ground by the Fourth Circuit Court

of Appeals. The Office of Surface Mining is

currently conducting an environmental review

of the proposed change. Permitting continues

for the burying of hundreds more miles of

ecologically rich streams.

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Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006 http://www.waterkeeper.org

COURTESY COALFIELD SUSTAINABILITY PROJECT AND SOUTHWINGS

Coldwater Creek

VIVIAN STOCKMAN

One picture says it all…

Marsh Fork Elementary School in Raleigh County, WV, (green patch and white building visible

in the foreground, left) sits across Little Coal River from Massey Energy’s Goals Coal

Processing plant (blue building) and their Shumate Coal Sludge Impoundment – a slurry

dam permitted for 2.8 billion gallons of coal sludge (center). The 385-feet-high earthen dam

sits about 400 yards from the school. A coal silo sits within 150 feet of the school. The towns

of Pettry Bottom and Naoma, WV, are also visible in the photo. A 1,849-acre strip mine is also

Sludge Spill

On October 11, 2000, 300 million gallons of

visible above the impoundment – blasting from this new mine imperils the dam and

communities below.

coal sludge broke through a coal slurry

impoundment at Kentucky’s largest

mountaintop removal site. (The Exxon

Massey Energy

Massey and other coal companies spend

millions each election cycle to shape the

political debate in West Virginia. Blankenship

personally spent $3.5 million during the state

Supreme Court campaign, propelling political

novice Brent Benjamin onto the bench. This

month, Massey agreed to pay $2.5 million to

settle – without admitting any wrongdoing –

a shareholder lawsuit alleging that under

Blankenship’s leadership Massey had become,

“a recidivist environmental violator as a

result of the knowing and willful conduct of

its Board of Directors.”

Author Cindy Rank, West Virginia HeadwatersWaterkeeper, and Don Blankenship, head ofMassey Energy Company (the region’s largest coalproducer) debate in 2004.

Valdez spill was “only” 11 million gallons.)

The black goo poured into Coldwater and

Wolf Creeks and traveled 100 miles

reaching the Ohio River, closing down

community water supplies and devastating

aquatic life. The impoundment contained

two billion gallons of sludge and sits atop

abandoned underground mines. Regulatory

agencies had rated the “pond” a moderate

risk for failure. This photo was taken 15 days

after the Oct. 11, 2000 spill, downstream

from the areas most affected by the spill.

Illegal roadblocks, staffed probably by coal

company employees, kept the public from

getting close to the worst areas. There are

hundreds of similar sludge “ponds” across

Appalachia, at mountaintop removal and

other coal mining sites.

http://www.waterkeeper.org Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006

35

THE COAL TRUTH

AP PHOTO/JEFF GENTNER

Moving, Washing,

Preparing and Moving

TERRI TAYLOR

Coal preparation plant operations.

Once coal is mined, it must be transported to preparation plants, washed and then moved

again to power plants. At several points along the way coal is stockpiled in huge

amounts. Runoff from coal piles contaminates groundwater – the primary drinking water

source throughout rural America. Coal particulates fill the air, impacting surrounding communities and waterways. These particulates, called coal “fines,” can be

found contaminating the air, waterways and communities everywhere that coal is transported and stored.

At the prep-plant, usually near the mine, coal is mixed with water

and chemicals, “sluiced and juiced,” to remove impurities that complicate the burning process. The refuse from the coal washing is a toxic,

liquid slurry of chemicals and coal waste that is then pumped to a slurry impoundment – a former valley that is now filled with billions (yes

“b”) of gallons of toxic sludge behind a manmade dam. These

impoundments are often located above communities. Many are at

high risk of failing because they can be undermined by underlying

abandoned, or even active, underground mines.

While coal companies are required by law to treat water that flows

out of the impoundment into streams and rivers, these slurry

impoundments can overflow in heavy rains or when dams fail.

These slurry impoundments remain a permanent threat to downstream communities.

Once washed, the coal is loaded back onto trucks, trains and barges for

transport to the power plant, again, spreading toxic coal fines to communities and waterways far beyond the coalfields.

Coal is loaded into a truck from a Brooks Run Mining Co. mine Friday, Nov. 18,2005 near Erbacon, WV.

YOUGHIOGHENY RIVERKEEPER

Coal trucks, typically weighing over 12,000 pounds, create a hazard on theroads of coal country, costing state taxpayers money to repair the highwaysand bridges. For those who share the narrow, winding country roads withthese behemoths, sometimes the price is much higher.

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Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006 http://www.waterkeeper.org

Burning

Coal Fly Ash Basin Blows Out:

Miller Steam Plant on Locust Fork of the

Black Warrior River, AL, one of 1,100 coal-

fired power plants in the U.S.

After coal has been mined,

transported, washed and

delivered to utility units, it is

burned to create electricity.

Unfortunately, because it’s cheaper and easier to build power

plants near the source of the coal,

the very same populations that

pay the highest price of mining

are also disproportionately

impacted by the burning of coal.

Nevertheless, the effects of

burning coal reach far beyond the

coalfields. Towering power plant

smokestacks churn out massive

amounts of mercury, greenhouse

gases and more smog-causing

nitrogen oxide emissions than all

of the nation’s cars, vans, and

SUVs combined. By some estimates, these pollutants cause

almost 30,000 deaths each year,

extending the risks of coal min-

NELSON BROOKE, BLACK WARRIOR RIVERKEEPER

1000 Million Gallons Spill

Into Delaware River

On August 23, 2005, a leak began

in Pennsylvania Power and Light’s

(PPL) coal fly ash storage basin at

their Martins Creek power plant.

By the next day, the leak turned

into a flood over the roads and

fields adjacent to the basin, then

an eruption of coal fly ash slurry

ing far beyond the coalfields. Add to those impacts acid rain, mercury contamination and climate change from carbon dioxide emissions.

New “clean coal” technologies that remove some of the toxics

now being spewed into the air may sound noble, but even these fail

to address the significant problems associated with mining and the

disposing of coal waste and ash. Much of the heavy metal laden ash

and waste is stored in landfills or in slurry impoundments that can

leak or fail.

Coalbed methane well pads and the dirt roads

that connect them dominate ridgetops in the

Village Creek basin, AL.

Coalbed Methane

Coalbed methane extraction is closely associated with coal

mining, and also very destructive. Coalbed methane is a gas that

is given off by coal seams deep in the ground. The seam is

fractured, or fracked,” and pumped full of highly-pressurized

water, allowing gas from throughout the seam to flow to the

that lasted for several days. In the

end, at least 100 million gallons (company estimate) of coal fly ash

effluent gushed into the Oughoughton Creek and the Delaware River.

Easton, about 10 miles downstream, had to shut down its water

intakes for several days; the river was dark gray with a slick of light

gray for more than a week. Known components of the fly ash

include arsenic, mercury, lead, silica, crystalline silica, barium,

chromium and other heavy metals. The toxin-laden slurry paved the

river bottom, smothering aquatic life for several miles downstream;

as far as 40 miles south the gray sludge was visible in between rocks

NELSON BROOKE, BLACK WARRIOR RIVERKEEPER, FLIGHT PROVIDED BY SOUTHWINGS WWW.SOUTHWINGS.ORG

in the river.

The blow out, the slow and mishap-riddled cleanup, and poor

decision making by the company and state officials has resulted in

prolonging the pollution event, causing pollution from the coal fly

ash to spread, and making a very bad situation much worse.

Delaware Riverkeeper Network will continue to advocate for the

surface, where it is captured and can be piped into homes for

permanent shut down of the coal fired units and the removal of the

heat, cooking and industrial uses. Some coal companies claim

open impoundments, which represent outdated technology and are

degasification in underground mines increases mine safety.

not environmentally protective.

However, according to the United Mining Workers of America,

there are more explosions in degasified mines than mines that

do not use this process.

http://www.waterkeeper.org Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006

37

THE COAL TRUTH

Acid Mine Drainage:

where you scratch the earth, it bleeds

Even after the coal is removed

from the earth, completed

mining operations often remain

an ecological threat. Toxic mine

drainage from abandoned deep

and surface mines plagues

groundwater and streams

throughout Appalachia.

A poisonous brew is created

when pyrite-containing rock is dug

or bulldozed out of its eons-old rest

deep within the earth and exposed

to the air and rain. A chemical reaction with water forms a rust-like

substance that washes into

streams and groundwater. The

water has a low pH (meaning it’s

sour like vinegar or lemon juice)

and contains metals such as iron,

manganese and aluminum.

In deep mining, toxic mine

drainage is formed when the coal

itself is full of pyrite. As mined

out voids fill with toxic water

laced with metals, pressure builds

and eventually pushes the toxic

brew out of hillsides in seeps, and

through fissures in the earth, into

our groundwater and waterways.

In strip mining, toxic mine

drainage results from pyritic rock

STEPHEN SIMPSON

Noxious mine

discharge alongRt. 837 runninginto the

MonongahelaRiver near New

Eagle, PA.

around and above coal seams being exposed to water. When that rock

is blasted apart and bulldozed back into place as “backfill,” drainage

through the disturbed material releases toxic chemicals and metals.

Acidic and metal-laden water can also pool up into toxic underground lakes in interconnected deep mine workings. While the mines

are active, the mining company is required to pump and treat the discharge. In theory, the oxygen supply is cut off in abandoned mines,

stopping the production of acid. In practice however, mines continue

to produce acid drainage long after they are abandoned. The

“Pittsburgh Pool” alone encompasses over one million acres of metal-

laden groundwater that stretches from the Monongahela River to the

Ohio River in Northern West Virginia. Toxic water from this underground lake seeps out into streams and wells. The absence of any legally “responsible parties” have the academics, government and industry

personnel madly searching for the money and technical know-how to

deal with the problem.

Acid mine drainage is a gift that keeps on giving, killing fish and

other aquatic life, poisoning the soil and creating expensive treatment

problems downstream. Thousands of miles of streams are rendered

unusable. Untold numbers of individual well users, public water supplies and wildlife are harmed. Long-term treatment costs are necessary but astronomical.

The Abandoned Mine Lands

Challenge of 2006

June 30, 2006 will be an important date for our nation’s coalfield

communities. That is when the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Program

must be re-authorized, and hopefully strengthened, by Congress. AML

was created to collect fees from coal companies to reclaim lands, rivers

and streams damaged by mines abandoned by the coal industry.

The AML program was supposed to have completed the cleanup

job and come to an end in 2004, but decades of Congressional raids

on the fund to cover other spending programs have left it

inadequately funded. The federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM)

reported that 3.6 million people lived within a mile of a Priority 1 or

2 site – those that pose the greatest health and safety threats.

But it isn’t just coalfield communities suffering from this

pollution – the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay are

being badly damaged by polluted waste coming from abandoned

mines in Pennsylvania, and there is no hope for cleaning up the

Chesapeake Bay until abandoned mine contamination in

Pennsylvania is stopped.

—Louise C. Dunlap

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Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006 http://www.waterkeeper.org

Where Coal Reigns King

“King Coal” refers to the coal companies, their associations

and the politicians who throw open the public trust, clearing the way for their worst mining practices. One might think that

our government would work diligently to minimize impacts and

safeguard our communities. Unfortunately, when it comes to protecting the public from the harmful effects of the mining and

burning of coal, Congress and this Administration have chosen to

turn a blind eye.

Mine Reclamation Projects

In 1977, Congress set up the Abandoned Mine Land Fund to raise the

funds needed to clean up mines that were abandoned prior to the

1977 passage of the Surface Mine Act. Active mining companies are

required to pay into the fund at the rate of 35 cents per ton of surface-mined coal and 15 cents per ton of underground-mined coal.

Congress ordered the money to be used to correct problems created

by mining done prior to 1977, especially to fix dangerous or emergency situations, replace water supplies and repair and reclaim

abandoned mine sites. Congress estimated in 1977 that repairs

could be accomplished in 15 years.

Now, nearly 30 years later, many hundreds of sites remain unreclaimed. Money in the fund has been used for highly questionable

projects, and reauthorization of the fund to require continued payment from companies actively mining and making profits is a politically charged battle.

In West Virginia alone, more than $375 million has been spent out

of the fund over the last 20 years to re-grade scarred land, stabilize

dangerous slides, fix hazardous mine waste and otherwise clean up

abandoned mine sites. But, measured by estimated cleanup costs, the

federal government estimates that less than one-quarter of the

state’s inventoried abandoned mine problems have been reclaimed.

Since the program began, coal operators have paid more than $7

billion into the fund. But as the West Virginia Charleston Gazette

outlined in a series of articles last year, more than $1.3 billion of

money from the fund has been diverted to low-priority cleanups or

other non-essential projects.

Reclamation At Its Finest

This shot from the Hurricane Creek,

AL, watershed shows two separatereclamation attempts with a slurrypit in the middle. The upper side ofthe picture was strip mined andreclaimed by Tuscaloosa Resourceswithin the past 5 years. They werecareful to leave a narrow band of

trees along highway 216 to block theview of the site from the road.

The lower side of the photo is theDrummond Coal mine and

reclamation site from the 1970’s.

Drummond received an award for

reclamation from the federal

government for their excellent workat this site. So what’s the result 30

years after the reclamation effort? Afew scrubby pine trees andcontinued poison runoff.

unof

The pit in the middle was bondedfor reclamation by Drummond thensold to Jim Walters Resources who

continues to use the pit today. UnderDrummond’s 1970’s permit, theywere supposed to close and reclaim

wer

the pit. This is another case of a so-

called minor permit revisionallowing coal companies to ignoreregulatory requirements and put offcleaning up their mess.

JOHN WATHEN

http://www.waterkeeper.org Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006

39

The Warrior Coal Basin

THE COAL TRUTH

NELSON BROOKE, BLACK WARRIOR RIVERKEEPER

Birmingport is a barge loading facility onthe banks of the Locust Fork of the Black

Warrior River. This port is Birmingham’sgateway to Mobile Bay, providing for thetransport of coal, asphalt, chemicals,

wood chips, and steel. Flight provided bySouthWings http://www.southwings.org

David Whiteside, Interim Executive Director

Black Warrior Riverkeeper

Coal is plentiful in the Black Warrior River watershed, which, combined with Alabama’s ranking as dead last in the United States in

environmental protection, adds up to tremendous water pollution.

Coal was first discovered here in the 19th century. “Stonecoal” was

mined by driving crowbars into river ledges while divers recovered

falling minerals from the water. Expert navigators guided riverboats

through the narrow passages of the free-flowing Black Warrior to haul

the coal to market. The tales of these river captains became local legends.

Today the Black Warrior, straightened and dammed by the Corps of

Engineers for easy navigation, is a silent giant in Alabama’s economy,

serving as a major shipping route for coal, cotton, steel, wood chips

and other products, and connecting

Birmingham with Mobile Bay and The Drummond Company’s

the Gulf of Mexico. Shoal Creek Mine currently

In the 1980s, Alabama coal had a crosses underneath the main

market value of $22 a ton. Today, stem of the river west of

the market value is well over $100 a Birmingham. Miners there

ton. As a result, Alabama is experi-pump 40 million gallons of

encing a resurgence in coal mining. now toxic water out of the

New mines are being permitted mine each day, sending water

throughout the Black Warrior loaded with heavy metals and

watershed on almost a monthly acid cascading down a bluff

basis. But King Coal has already back into the river.

picked clean the richest and most

accessible coal seams. Now, to remain profitable, these operations

must dig deeper, and flaunt environmental laws and worker safety, to

harvest coal that was previously unprofitable to mine. Black Warrior

Riverkeeper is reviewing dozens of mining permits, monitoring mines

by air and pursing Clean Water Act violators.

Tugboat “Alabama” motors its way down the Black Warrior River with six fully loaded barges of coal.

NELSON BROOKE, BLACK WARRIOR RIVERKEEPER

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Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006 http://www.waterkeeper.org

The true cost of coal is measured

in human lives

HURRICANE CREEKKEEPER

John Wathen

Hurricane Creekkeeper

On September 23, 2001, a

blast ripped through Jim

The JWR #5

mine in

Tuscaloosa

County, AL.

Eighteen men have been

killed in this mine

between 2000 and 2004: 13

in one blast in 2001. The

large building in the

center is the vertical shaft

into the mine where the

coal comes out and men go

in. This mine is the deepest

vertical mineshaft in the

U.S. The green roofed

buildings to the left of the

massive coal pile is the

church and graveyard

where the JWR 13 widows

and families waited while

the search went on for

their men after JWR

prevented them from

entering the property.

materials and coal dust” in the

coal dust.

Walter Resources (JWR) Blue

Creek mine #5 killing 13 of

Brookwood’s fathers, brothers,

and sons. Federal regulators

had conducted several inspections and written 31 violations,

including 12 for “combustible

HURRICANE CREEKKEEPER

HURRICANE CREEKKEEPER

The church grounds have to becleaned constantly to remove

months leading up to the blast.

JWR had been ordered to correct

these problems prior to the

time of the blast. Each of these

violations was a serious threat

to safety. But JWR is used to

ignoring safety violations, and minor slaps on the wrist from regulators.

This fall, five years after the blast, the courts lowered the fine that Jim Walter Resources

must pay to $3,000 from $435,000. That comes to $298.70 per man. Judge Barbour and the

federal Mine Safety and Health Administration sent a clear message to Jim Walter Resources

that it is okay to kill our neighbors if the profit is right.

Coal is not cheap in Alabama. And it costs a lot more than dollars and cents. It costs lives,

habitat and quality of life for everyone, except maybe those who thrive on our loss.

To say that 13 miners are not worth more than pocket change for King Coal is an atrocity.

http://www.waterkeeper.org Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006

41

THE COAL TRUTH

Environmental Regulation

As they apply to coal, the multitude of environmental laws passed in the 1970’s were

meant to strike a reasonable balance between producing coal and protecting human

health and the environment. These laws were meant to create a safety net of minimum standards below which industry could not go. With these standards fully enforced, the total cost

to mining and energy industries for maintaining these standards would be reflected in the

market price of energy. The desire for and pursuit of a coal-based energy would then be

determined by the true cost of coal and we, as consumers, would pay the cost of acceptable,

even sustainable, mining and burning practices.

With the passage of the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Surface Mining Control and

Reclamation Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and other laws in the 1970’s,

things got better, at least for a while. The blatant abuses of rip-and-run mining eased and the

public outcry decreased. Congress and the country were somewhat comforted.

However, as people were lulled into complacency, industry was busy refining its image.

High power public relations efforts were changing the startling image of Appalachian coalfields from devastated lands, downtrodden miners and impoverished communities to green

rolling reclaimed hills. While the façade got prettier and the words were fine-tuned, industry

Mercury

Hypocrisy

Last fall, Waterkeeper magazine focused on the impacts of mercury

emissions from the nation’s 1,100 coal-fired power plants, including

EPA’s estimate that 630,000 children are born each year in the U.S.

with unsafe levels of mercury in their blood from their mother’s

consumption of mercury contaminated fish.

One of the Bush Administration’s favorite arguments against

effectively controlling power plant mercury emissions is that much

of the mercury in our waterways comes from sources outside the

U.S. (nearly 1,500 tons of mercury are released globally each year.)

EPA claims that U.S. emissions account for only three percent of the

manmade sources worldwide, and that Asia emits 860 tons, while

North America accounts for only 105 tons per year.

But a closer examination of the issue speaks volumes about how

disingenuous this Administration truly is when it comes to stopping

mercury pollution. Last February, mercury was on the table for

discussion when the United Nations Environment Programme

(UNEP) met for its 23rd Governing Council in Nairobi, Kenya. During

committee meetings, the European Union called for a legally

binding agreement that would force global reductions in mercury

emissions. Asian countries were largely on board. But U.S.

representatives opposed any mandatory reduction standards,

instead calling for a voluntary partnership program – in other

words, an unenforceable agreement that would not burden their

industry friends back home. So while the EPA is quick to deflect

blame to other parts of the world, the U.S. government will not

embrace international regulation of mercury emissions.

As a result of U.S. opposition, internationally binding reductions

on mercury emissions failed. The U.S. response? If you don’t want to

fix it, throw money at it and hope it will go away. Instead of

endorsing any meaningful mercury reduction agreement, Bush

officials pledged $1 million to the UNEP mercury program. So much

for international leadership.

devised new mining practices and employed new technologies far

more destructive than anyone dreamed possible when the legislation

of the 1970’s were enacted.

At the same time the roots of coal’s political influence grew longer

and stronger. Coal companies leaped into political campaign financing, and otherwise influenced the tenor, tone and texture of regulations. With control of the political process King Coal orchestrated

decreases in funding for enforcement agencies and shifted primacy

and power away from the federal government to the coalfield states,

where industry has even more direct control and influence.

With its now deep seated political influence, new “improved” technologies and the illusion of “cheap” energy, King Coal went to work on

the environmental laws, twisting regulations to their wishes and discouraging enforcement. In one of the more egregious policy-making

decisions coming out of the EPA in recent years, the Agency changed

the definition of “fill” under the Clean Water Act to allow mining companies to dump tons of mining debris into valley streams without

being in violation of the Act. The federal Office of Surface Mining has

proposed a change to the Buffer Zone Rule that would legalize the filling of hundreds more miles of valuable headwater streams. And just

last year, EPA enacted a rule that allows coal-fired plants to continue to

spew tons of mercury into our air and waterways for decades to come.

Who’s running West Virginia?

February 24, 2005 West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin III

(2nd from left) discusses details of his legislative agenda

during a briefing with members of the state Legislature in

the House Chamber, State Capitol, (that’s Bill Raney from

the WV Coal Association on the far right.)

42

Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006 http://www.waterkeeper.org

0

Two legislative bodies in Congress, the

Senate Committee on Energy and

Natural Resources and the House

Committee on Resources, have

jurisdiction over mining, energy policy,

public lands and mineral leasing. But

who are these Senators and Congress

members really working for?

The League of Conservation Voters

publishes a National Environmental

Scorecard, an impartial evaluation of

each Congressional members’

commitment to environmental issues

such as public health and safety,

natural resource conservation and

spending on environmental

programs. Experienced

conservationists from nineteen

environmental organizations use key

legislation to grade Congress

members. Depending on their voting

record on these issues, Senators and

Representatives receive a grade from

0, the worst, to 100, the best.

Waterkeeper has identified the

Resource Committee members who

have received a zero on the Scorecardin 2003 or 2004. There are others

with abysmally low scores – but

these are the true zeros. These are

King Coal’s champions in Congress,

letting the people of the coalfields

and our nation down.

Marilyn Musgrave,

Colorado

These are Waterkeeper’s BIG FAT ZEROSDon Young, Alaska

JD Hayworth, Arizona Richard Pombo, California

George Radanovich,

California

Elton Gallegly, California Tom Tancredo, Colorado

Barbara Cubin, Wyoming

Jim Gibbons, Nevada Steve Pearce, New Mexico

Henry E. Brown, South

Carolina

Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Conrad Burns, Montana George Allen, Virginia Craig Thomas, Wyoming

Pete Domenici, New Mexico

Lamar Alexander, Tennessee

Jim Bunning, Kentucky

Jim Talent, Missouri

SENATE

COMMITTEE

ON ENERGY

AND

NATURAL

RESOURCES

Christopher Cannon, Utah John J. Duncan, Tennessee

HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES

http://www.waterkeeper.org Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006

43

THE COAL TRUTH

VIVIAN STOCKMAN

VIVIAN STOCKMAN

Image Refinery

Though the years the coal industry has worked hard to “clean up” it’s image. The greening of

coal continues to this day with roadside billboards throughout coal country, General

Electric’s “eco-imagination” campaign of buff coal miners and dancing rainforest creatures

and Massey Coal Company’s “total environment” campaign that asserts that it is King Coal,

not loudmouthed environmentalists, who are looking out for the people of Appalachia.

John Amos coal-fired powerplant in Nitro, WV.

44

Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006 http://www.waterkeeper.org

Every basket is power and

civilization. For coal is a

portable climate…and coal

carries coal, by rail and by

boat, to make Canada as

warm as Calcutta.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Wa

Forward

PAUL WIEGMAN

Emerson, considered by many people to be the founding father of

the conservation movement with his 1836 treatise on nature,

wrote these words in praise of coal almost 150 years ago. With the

dramatic impact that the burning of coal and other fossil fuels is

having on our planet’s climate, how ironically prophetic his statements have proven to be.

The gathering and burning of coal as an energy source has been

documented as far back as 400 A.D. in Roman-controlled Britain.

Now, many centuries later, when the combustion engine has displaced horse-drawn chariots and missiles have supplanted swords,

coal still remains a primary source of energy. At what cost do we

desperately hold onto this antiquated supply of power? In order to

facilitate the continuing use of coal, the Bush Administration has

rewritten environmental laws to allow mining companies to dump

their wastes into valley streams and other waterways and implemented regulations that allow utility companies to avoid any meaningful reduction of mercury emissions from power plants. Under the

guise of free trade, “cheap” Appalachian coal is shipped across the

border to use in Ontario power plants whose very emissions blow

back across this same border to poison our Northeastern states.

We are long past asking ourselves the pivotal question: is the true

cost of coal truly worth it’s cost?

The answer is painfully obvious.

It is time to replace coal with better, cleaner, more efficient

sources of energy. Coal is as obsolete as the antediluvian life forms

that make up its substance – it’s time to move on. Instead of making

excuses for the continued use of coal, this country’s leadership must

take affirmative steps to phase out our dependency on this destructive energy source.

Give all stakeholders a place at the table when formulating energy policies. Our current energy policy came out of Vice-President Dick

Cheney’s energy task force — made up entirely of industry representatives who donated millions of dollars to his election campaign.

When profit-driven energy interests dictate the energy policies of this

nation we’ve gone way beyond letting the fox guard the henhouse.

Our government needs to promote energy conservation instead

of subsidizing increased expenditures to further coal use. In 1998

the Environmental Protection Agency noted in a report to Congress

that coal-fired power plants account for 48 tons per year of mercury

being emitted into our air and waterways. Our government’s

response? To permit the building of even more coal-fired power

plants and gut Clean Air Act requirements that would mandate

strict control of mercury emissions from these very facilities. It is

time to take conservation seriously.

The fact is, coal could not be mined in the destructive manner

that it is and burned with wanton disregard for human and environmental health if we simply enforce the laws of the United

States as intended. Instead, with the help of a more than willing

Bush Administration, the mining industry has turned to undermining the very basic principles of our bedrock environmental statutes

like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Compliance with

these laws and regard for our environment and public health would

help insure that the cost of coal is truly reflective of the devastation

it’s use entails.

Aggressively pursue alternate, renewable and clean sources of

energy. The coal industry is determined to keep the country reliant

on coal until Appalachia has been leveled, every last coal seam has

been mined and every last coal chunk has been burned. Why? So

they can squeeze every last drop of profits from an infrastructure

that has been paid for by the American people many times over. As

long as these same interests script the nation’s energy policies, there

will never be any real push for alternate sources of energy.

WK

http://www.waterkeeper.org Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006

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46 Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006 THE COAL TRUTH

BeautifulAppalachiaSTEPHEN SIMPON

CLIFTON McGILL

STEPHEN SIMPONCINDY BLALEY/GREENSPEAK

PAUL WEIGMANBARRY LAVERY

STEPHEN SIMPSON

VIVIAN STOCKMANVIVIAN STOCKMAN

STEPHEN SIMPSONBARRY LEVERY

STEPHEN SIMPSON

47Waterkeeper Magazine Winter 2006 http://www.waterkeeper.org

DONALD GIBBON

VIVIAN STOCKMAN

Mississippi Power Service Man Tells Me…

Met an employee with the Mississippi Power Company today and casually asked him if the Kemper Co Coal Plant will make our electric bills go up. He said, “very little if any and only temporary.”  He then told me who to vote for, the incumbent.  I assure you I will not be voting for a PSC incumbent who voted to bring CAP and Tax to MS.

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