8th August 2006
If you believe George W Bush, the key US "enemy within" actually comes from outside. While making political capital out of threats from "Islamic fascists", the buccaneer president continues to ignore environmental dangers that affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of the country's citizens.
This week we report on uncontrolled (and sometimes under-reported) mercury emissions from cement manufacture; an imaginative series of demonstrations against mountain top removal, at the recent national governor's conference; and a suit filed against one of the country's most polluting coal-fired power plants.
North of the border, plans by a US quarry company to dig up and export basalt also receive a firm thumbs down from the citizens of Canada's province of Nova Scotia.
Errors understate mercury emissions
A faulty formula: the Eastern Oregon kiln used for tests leads the DEQ to talk of possible limits on the output
Michale Milstein, The Oregonian
4th August 2006
An Eastern Oregon cement plant that releases more toxic mercury into the air than any other source in the state actually emits far more mercury than it had reported to authorities.
The new figures released Thursday make the Ash Grove Cement plant in Durkee the third largest source of airborne mercury in the nation in 2004, the last year with national statistics available. The only larger sources were a California cement plant and a Nevada gold mine.
Coal-fired plants are the nationwide target of new regulations to control mercury, which collects in the food chain and puts babies at risk of neurological damage and learning disabilities.
But the Durkee plant in 2004 vented into the air more than a ton of mercury, hundreds of pounds more than the nation's largest coal-burning power plant, according to federal figures.
No mercury limits apply to cement plants because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concluded no reasonably priced controls are available.
The Durkee plant's new figures surprised air-quality officials. They said it suggests cement kilns -- where mercury emerges from limestone heated to make cement -- are a much larger source of the toxic compound than anyone had recognized.
"We're seeing a pervasive underreporting throughout the country of mercury from cement kilns," said Bill Becker, director of a nationwide alliance of state and local air-quality regulators.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality re-examined the Durkee cement plant's releases after a June article in The Oregonian identified it as a much larger source of mercury than Oregon's only coal-fired power plant. DEQ officials found that Ash Grove used incorrect figures when calculating the mercury released by its plant. The actual amount is roughly two to three times higher, depending on the year.
That puts its recent emissions at about 10 times those of Portland General Electric's coal-fired power plant near Boardman, the subject of a new state mercury-control rule.
Within the next month, DEQ officials will order Ash Grove to conduct more intensive tests of its emissions, said Andrew Ginsburg, administrator of DEQ's air-quality division. The DEQ then will consider whether mercury controls are warranted and would be cost effective.
Origin of errors
The discrepancy in the plant's reported mercury releases arose because a Seattle company that performed testing at the plant in 2001 gave Ash Grove incorrect figures. DEQ officials caught the problem at the time, and the Seattle company -- Valid Results Inc. -- sent a corrected report to DEQ.
But the testing company never sent the new figures to Ash Grove. So Ash Grove used the earlier incorrect figures to calculate the plant's emissions and submit them to a federal database available to the public. That is not a violation because the company used the best information it had available at the time, said Christina Colt of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional office in Seattle.
Federal laws do not require Ash Grove to correct the faulty numbers. But company officials said they opted to do so because of the national interest in mercury emissions.
Trace amounts of mercury in limestone quarried at the Durkee plant are responsible for almost 99 percent of the mercury released, Ash Grove said.
The rest comes from coal burned to heat the cement kiln.
Limited testing The company said its calculations of mercury emissions are based on limited testing from five years ago, rather than continued monitoring of what comes from the roughly 25-year-old plant.
Mercury in the air typically does not pose a risk to people who breathe it. It poses the widest risk when it washes into rivers and streams, and collects in fish in a more highly toxic form.
Most people are exposed to mercury by eating contaminated fish. At least one in 12 babies -- and possibly more -- born in the United States is at risk of developmental disorders because of mercury exposure, research shows.
Studies suggest that much of the mercury from cement kilns emerge as vapor that drifts far away, said Bruce Hope, a DEQ environmental toxicologist. However, it's impossible to say clearly how much risk the cement plant's emissions pose to residents in Durkee or Eastern Oregon, he said. It depends on forms of mercury emitted, weather patterns and other factors.
"Not all mercury is created equal," he said. "In theory you could live next door to a smokestack and be fine, and live 10 miles away and not be fine. It just depends on the situation."
Greater DEQ focus
But he said the DEQ now is focusing much greater attention on the cement plant to better gauge the human risk.
A coalition of environmental groups said the DEQ should immediately begin testing local children and other residents for mercury exposure, and start checking mercury levels in nearby soils, streams and air. The testing is part of DEQ's legal obligations, said the groups: Columbia Riverkeeper, Northwest Environmental Defense Center and the Oregon Public Interest Research Group.
The EPA also is considering new national rules to control mercury from cement plants and last month sought more details on their emissions, said John Millett, a spokesman. He said the EPA will work with states to consider details such as the Durkee plant's releases.
Michael Milstein: 503-294-7689; email@example.com
Appalachian Citizens Demonstrate at Governors Conference
6th August 2006
Charleston, SC (HNN) – The Mountain Justice Summer (MJS) campaign held a weekend of demonstrations and street theatre in conjunction with the National Governors Association conference in Charleston, SC.
MJS is a grassroots campaign comprised of coalfields residents and their allies working to halt mountaintop removal coal mining across Appalachia and transition the Appalachian economy away from dependence on coal and toward a clean energy future.
At noon Friday, a plane carrying a banner reading, "Manchin: Stop Destroying my Mountains – God" flew over the governors' exclusive golf outing on Kiawah Island, calling on West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin to end mountaintop removal mining.
Friday evening, Aug. 4, 2006 as the governors were arriving on the historic Battery section for an evening of entertainment and refreshments, they were greeted by banners reading "End the destruction of Appalachia—Stop Mountaintop Removal." MJS activists distributed literature and spoke to passersby.
Saturday morning, Aug. 5, 2006 a handful of governors and their guests began a 5K fun run/walk for Healthy America. MJS participants gave them a cheery sendoff at the start and a warm welcome at the finish line. One MJS participant, Randal Pfleger, ran with the group. "After the governors run for their health this morning, I encourage them to run back and make strong stands against mountaintop removal. We cannot run from climate change or air pollution, and children can not run from asthma and coal dust," he said.
Also on Saturday, Aug. 5 demonstrators rallied outside the governors' opening press conference at the Charleston County Courthouse. Activists shouted "Hey Joe, kids first" to greet Governor Manchin to remind him of his commitment to the health and safety of the students at Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, WV. The school building sits just 225 feet from a coal silo and 400 yards from a 2.8 billion-gallon toxic coal waste sludge dam.
On Sunday, Aug. 6, 2006 a "wedding" will take place between King Coal and the Appalachian states' governors in downtown Charleston at the Charleston Place Hotel at 2:30 p.m.
Activities will continue throughout the weekend and on Monday, Aug. 7.
As national leaders, our nation's governors have a responsibility to address the crisis of mountaintop removal coal mining caused by our addiction to cheap energy. The governors of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia have the power through their environmental departments to close loopholes in legislation and enforcement that allow mountaintop removal.
Mountaintop removal wreaks havoc on local communities when coal companies use tons of explosives to remove the mountain from layers of coal. Repeated explosions crack the foundations of homes; prized fishing streams become highly polluted; speeding, overweight coal trucks cause frequent accidents; leaking toxic sludge dams threaten communities with flooding and annihilation.
"Coal kills, from cradle to grave. Strip mining is destroying our mountains, communities, and culture, while coal-burning power plants dramatically increase asthma and mercury contamination. With our health at risk and global climate change a reality, we cannot afford to drag our feet any longer in moving away from coal and toward clean, renewable energy," said Judy Bonds, who traveled from Coal River Valley, WV to fight for her homeland.
Group says proposed N.S. quarry will hurt environment, tourism and fishery
Canadian Press: JAMES KELLER
4th August 2006
HALIFAX (CP) - A proposed quarry in southwestern Nova Scotia would hurt the environment, the local fishery and the region's quality of life, a group opposed to the project said Friday.
The organization, known as the Stop the Quarry Coalition, is opposed to a U.S. company's plans to locate a basalt rock quarry in Digby Neck, N.S.
The quarry, owned by Bilcon for Whites Point, would cover roughly 150 hectares along the Bay of Fundy, and produce about two million tonnes of basalt every year for use on highways in New Jersey and New York.
At a news conference Friday, which included Liberal and New Democrat members of the legislature, the coalition condemned Bilcon's environmental impact assessment as flawed and incomplete.
The assessment concluded there will be no significant harm to the area, but the group said there is little evidence to support that claim.
"This (environmental study) has badly failed to convince us that the project is harmless," group spokesman Don Mullin told the news conference.
The group outlined a long list of ways the quarry would hurt surrounding communities.
A lobster fishermen told the news conference his business would suffer. Residents said their peaceful way of life and tourist industry would be affected and environmentalists explained how blasting at the quarry could hurt marine life, such as the endangered North Atlantic right whale.
Tony Kelly, whose community of Little River, N.S. is near the proposed quarry site, said the effects would be far-reaching.
"The point that we want to make, and make over and over in large letters, is this is not only a beautiful place to visit, it's a beautiful place to live," said Kelly, before showing a video highlighting the lives of local residents.
"It's a very active and vibrant community, but not with a rock quarry in your backyard."
The group has submitted its concerns to the panel reviewing the project. The deadline for such submissions has been extended until next Friday.
The company defended the proposal and the findings of the environmental impact assessment.
Bilcon spokesman Paul Buxton said the proposal falls within existing regulations, and the company has come up with ways to deal with any harmful consequences.
"This is not an LNG plant, this is not a nuclear power station, and . . . the results or possible effects are going to be so minor," said Buxton in an interview.
"We have one group who is basically saying that we don't want a quarry under any circumstances at Whites Point, and they'd probably go further than that and say we don't want one in Digby county and we don't want one in the province of Nova Scotia."
Buxton also said there would be benefits to the local economy through jobs and property taxes.
Harold Theriault, an opposition Liberal who represents the area in the provincial legislature, criticized the project for exporting the rock to the U.S. with little benefit to the province.
His party plans to introduce a private members bill this fall that would keep coastal rocks from the area in Nova Scotia.
"We believe if the door is opened for this to become a gravel pit for the United States, it will be the beginning of the end to a world-class tourist destination," said Theriault.
However, Theriault said regardless of where the material goes, the Whites Point quarry shouldn't go ahead.
Suit Filed Over Paradise Coal-fired Plant in Kentucky
Statement by Center for Biological Diversity, WASHINGTON, DC
2nd August 2006
The Center for Biological Diversity and residents of Kentucky filed suit this week against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia over the agency's failure to address dangerous deficiencies in the Tennessee Valley Authority's Paradise coal-fired power plant operating permit.
The Tennessee Valley Authority's Paradise power plant ("TVA Paradise") is located on the Green River in Muhlenberg County, western Kentucky, where the town of Paradise once stood. In 1967, the Tennessee Valley Authority tore down Paradise, later memorialized in John Prine's folk song by the same name, to make room for the power plant.
TVA Paradise is now one of the largest sources of air pollution in the nation. It burns more than 7 million tons of coal and emits thousands of tons of air pollutants each year that the EPA has identified as hazardous to human health and the environment. These pollutants cause a variety of health problems such as asthma, bronchitis, heart attacks, birth defects and decreased intelligence, and also contribute to climate change.
The federal Clean Air Act regulates the emission of many of these substances from power plants by requiring these facilities to have a valid operating permit. While the Division for Air Quality of the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet has issued an operating permit to TVA Paradise, the lawsuit alleges that this permit is deficient in many respects, including failing to require TVA Paradise to operate modern pollution control equipment year-round. The EPA, in turn, has violated the Clean Air Act by failing to modify or revoke the permit in light of these flaws.
"The EPA now clearly acknowledges that pollution from coal-fired power plants can foul our air and cause a variety of serious illnesses," said Julie Teel, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. "The fact that the EPA is still not taking corrective action with regard to TVA Paradise's air pollution permit, which is years overdue, indicates something is wrong with the moral compass EPA is using to set its priorities."
TVA Paradise also threatens Western Kentucky's ecosystems, which include the most intricate cave and underground stream system in the world. Dr. Hilary Lambert, a resident of Lexington, Kentucky, explained that Mammoth Cave National Park, a World Heritage Site located downwind of the Paradise plant, receives the brunt of the airborne pollution: "The pollution gets trapped in the folds and hollows of the park's wooded landscape, helping to give Mammoth Cave National Park the dubious distinction of having the third worst air quality of any national park in the country." In Dr. Lambert's view, "It is well past the time for someone to rein in the decades of arrogant behavior shown by the operators and owners of the Paradise coal-fired power plant, which daily darkens the skies of western Kentucky with its fallout."
Preston Forsythe, who lives near TVA Paradise, expressed similar disappointment that the EPA has ignored their pleas to bring the TVA Paradise permit in compliance with the law, but said, "I can see TVA Paradise and its dark plume of pollutants from my home. I can no longer sit by while an agency that was created to protect us from precisely this kind of harm allows TVA Paradise to illegally pollute the air, ground and water where my family lives."
Center for Biological Diversity
Tel : (619) 224-3400
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Coeur d'Alene Says Alaska Mine Suit Dismissed
PlanetArk US, NEW YORK
8th August 2006
- Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp. on Monday said a federal court in Alaska has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a mining permit issued to the company for its Kensington gold mine.
The permit had been the subject of a lawsuit filed against the US Army Corps of Engineers -- which issued the permit -- by the Sierra Club, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, and Lynn Canal Conservation.
In its ruling, the US District Court for the State of Alaska said: "The Corps (of Engineers) properly issued the permit to Coeur," according to a statement issued by Coeur d'Alene.
The company also said the court's decision allows construction work to continue at Kensington, where Coeur's 2006 investment is expected to total more than US$100 million and where some 300 workers are building the mine.