April 19, 2017

Why not solve toxic coal-ash problem forever?

     Coal ash.
     Coal ash.
     Coal ash.
     For 462 days, we’ve been maneuvering through an emotional minefield laced with the dangers of dumping millions of tons of toxic coal ash in Wayne County.  From mid-January 2016 until April 5, we expected the worst—Broadhurst could become America’s largest depository of poisonous coal ash.
     Thank goodness, Republic Services reconsidered and withdrew its rail-spur and coal-ash plans—for now.  We hope that corporate decision is permanent.  As grateful as we are for Republic’s good-neighbor action, we should never—again—take unpolluted air, water and earth for granted.  Just ask the people of Gallatin, Tennessee.
     Over the weekend, I read about that community’s plight in The New York Times.  The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is being sued—twice—over allegations that its Gallatin coal-fired power plant is contaminating groundwater and the Cumberland River, 30 miles upstream of Nashville, Music City U.S.A.  Add that to the much-publicized horrors of Duke Energy’s Dan River and TVA’s Kingston coal-ash nightmares.  Wayne County was right to ring the alarm.
     Before any of us knew much about toxic coal ash, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was well versed.  The EPA has identified 310 active onsite coal-ash landfills, averaging 120 acres each, and another 735 active onsite impoundments, averaging 50 acres in size.  That’s almost 75,000 acres of trouble waiting to happen.  So, what do we do?
     Since this is Earth Week, why don’t we take a test on dealing with this humongous threat to our natural resources?
     Question:  “How should we approach the global problem of toxic coal ash?”
           A.     Relocate problem waste to lined municipal landfills?
           B.     Cap the problem in place and hope for the best?
           C.     “Kick the (problem) can” down the road for future generations to solve?
           D.  Ignore the problem and hope it goes away? 
           E.  Use technology to detoxify coal ash, and, solve problem permanently?
     In my visit with Kentuckian Wendell Berry last year, I made note of his advice:   The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility.  To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”
     If we are to give heed to his wisdom, the only responsible answer is “E.”  I have been following a company which is close—oh, so close—to a technology breakthrough to solve our toxic coal-ash crisis.  The firm is developing a cost-effective system for onsite remediation of coal ash and its wastewater (leachate).  Mobile units could be taken to landfills and impoundments to treat the coal ash and turn it into usable materials for future redevelopment. 
     Imagine having no more unlined ash ponds beside waterways or transporting—and possibly scattering —toxic coal ash to places such as the Broadhurst Environmental Landfill, which sits atop the Floridan Aquifer and in the watershed of the Altamaha and Satilla rivers?
     You’ve heard me say before, “If we can put people on the moon, we can solve this problem, too.”  The time has come for us to clean up our fossil-fuel messes.   As Wendell Berry also says, “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” 
     Coal ash.
     Coal ash.
     Coal ash.
     So, my final question is: “With Earth Week upon us, why on earth are we waiting to permanently solve this problem?”