Despite what coal industry executives and opponents of renewable energy research would have you believe, America is running out of this filthy, costly, fossil fuel- and not a moment too soon.
Businessweek Magazine recently reported that “the federal government is encouraging farmers to spread a chalky waste from coal-fired power plants on their fields to loosen and fertilize soil even as it considers regulating coal wastes for the first time.”
Just over a year ago, an enormous coal ash spill took place at Tennessee’s Kingston TVA Coal Plant, spewing 525 million to 1 billion gallons of coal ash sludge (enough to cover 400 acres in coal ash about 6 feet deep) into the Emory River, potentially contaminating the water supply for Chattanooga, Tennessee as well as millions of people living downstream in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.
With clean up efforts STILL underway for the TVA spill, which the EPA called “one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind in history,” both the EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture are now brazenly promoting what they call the wastes’ “beneficial uses” in an effort to deal with the excessive ash piling up around the nation’s coal-fired plants.
The waste material is produced by power plant “scrubbers” that remove acid rain causing sulfur dioxide from plant emissions. A synthetic form of the mineral gypsum, it also contains mercury, arsenic, lead and other heavy metals, reports Businesweek.
Although the EPA and USDA claim that these toxic metals are only found in trace amounts in the coal ash, environmentalists are shocked that they would take such a gamble with farmer’s crops and the nation’s food supply.
“Basically this is a leap into the unknown,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “This stuff has materials in it that we’re trying to prevent entering the environment from coal-fired power plants and then to turn around and smear it across ag lands raises some real questions.”
With cleanup costs of the Tennessee spill expected to clear $1 billion before they are completed in 2013, it seems suspect that these federal agencies would be willing to inflict the presence of coal ash on these delicate lands without knowing more about how it could potentially affect both the quality of the food and the water supply.
The Businessweek article also noted that “since the EPA/USDA partnership began in 2001, farmers’ use of the material [FGD gypsum] has more than tripled, from about 78,000 tons spread on fields in 2002 to nearly 279,000 tons last year, according to the American Coal Ash Association, a utility industry group.
The EPA is expected to announce its proposals for regulation early next year, setting the first federal standards for storage and disposal of coal wastes.
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Image: Coal waste spill in TN
Credit: © Jerry D. Greer -www.jerrygreerphotography.com www.southernenvironment.org