DC to coal: You are a big danger to public health. Coal to DC: Kiss my ash.

On the same day the EPA announced plans to regulate coal ash and leaked a document that the CO2 “endangerment finding” is coming April 16, some 4,000 gallons of coal ash escaped its confinement and began a desperate journey to pollute DC waters. Coincidence? I think not!


Toxic coal sludge yearns to be free to pollute, as Tennesseeans have learned the hard way (see “The day ‘clean coal’ died” and “Second TVA coal ash pond ruptures — at Widows Creek coal plant.”

Now the Maryland Department of the Environment reports that East Coast coal ash also yearns to be free to pollute, and its preferred escape route is a river, one that just happens to flow into the nation’s capital:

The Maryland Department of the Environment Continues to Investigate Fly Ash Spill to North Branch Potomac River In West Virginia

BALTIMORE, MD (March 9, 2009) — On March 9, 2009, New Page Corp. at the pulp and paper mill located in the Town of Luke, Allegany County, reported to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) that a coal ash slurry spill had occurred into the North Branch Potomac River. Company officials advised that a pipeline that carries liquid ash from the Mill’s power plant to an ash storage lagoon in West Virginia had ruptured, allowing approximately 4,000 gallons of slurried ash to discharge directly into the river.

Officials estimated a “dime sized” hole developed in the pipeline around 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 8, 2009, and was discovered at 6:00 a.m. on March 9, 2009. The damaged pipeline was immediately taken out of service for repairs while cleanup efforts to remove spilled ash from the West Virginia shoreline are ongoing. Two unaffected parallel pipelines continue to carry ash slurry while repairs and cleanup operations are underway. MDE maintains regulatory authority over the North Branch Potomac River to the ordinary high water line along the West Virginia shoreline. In addition, MDE regulates the discharge of the coal ash lagoon in West Virginia through a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), Permit since it normally discharges directly into the river after treatment.

h/t to Pete Altman at NRDC who has more details here.

The good news is that the Obama EPA announced on Monday it will begin the process of regulating coal ash waste ponds (see here).

And Greenwire (subs req’d) has the story on the endangerment finding, which I excerpt below:

The Obama administration is fast-tracking its response to the Supreme Court’s 2007 climate decision with plans to issue a mid-April finding that global warming threatens both public health and welfare, according to an internal U.S. EPA document obtained by Greenwire.

EPA has been working feverishly since January to complete a scientific review of whether greenhouse gas emissions are influencing everything from crop failures to more intense heat waves and more severe coastal storms.

That study is expected to wrap up internally by March 18, prompting a three-week, inter-agency review led by the White House Office of Management and Budget, the document shows. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson then intends to sign the endangerment finding April 16, followed by a 60-day public comment period and two public hearings before the document goes final.

Importantly, Jackson does not plan to propose immediate regulations aimed at controlling heat-trapping gases from cars, power plants and other key contributors to climate change. Instead, the EPA chief will hold back on new emission rules to sync with a final endangerment finding and other fast-moving environmental policies.

EPA spokesman Allyn Brooks-LaSure declined comment on the specifics of the 34-page PowerPoint presentation. “We’re considering every option available,” he said.

Environmental groups welcomed the sneak peek into the Obama administration’s timeline for responding to a Supreme Court decision that actually dates back to the tail end of the Clinton administration.

“They’re proceeding even faster than I had thought,” said David Bookbinder, an attorney at the Sierra Club. “They’re making all the right decisions.”

Vickie Patton, a senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund, added, “There’s an enormous amount of lost ground to reclaim, given that we had eight years of inaction, delay and denial.”

… Obama’s EPA inherited the global warming review following an April 2007 Supreme Court decision that ordered the Bush administration to reconsider whether greenhouse gas emissions are pollutants subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.EPA under Bush dedicated 70 staffers and spent about $5.3 million on outside government contracts to prepare its response, but the White House resisted finalizing any actions linked to the Supreme Court opinion and ultimately punted the issue to the Obama administration.

Focus on public health

According to the internal EPA document, Jackson’s staff appears intent on issuing an endangerment finding that covers both welfare and public health. That is important because the Bush administration had just focused on welfare and the links between greenhouse gases and visibility, weather, crop damage and soil.

To expand to public health, EPA plans to make connections between climate change and everything from temperatures to air quality and expanded ranges of vector-borne and tick-borne diseases.

The EPA document said dealing with public health and welfare had “solid legal defensibility.” And agency staffers explain the possible political repercussions of avoiding public health. “Excluding public health would raise perception that the Agency is ignoring health risks associated with climate change,” the document said.

Elsewhere, the EPA document also suggests grouping together the six primary greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride — into a single group. Doing this would provide a “common currency” for future regulations. That strategy also would follow other scientific bodies, including the Nobel Prize winning U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

On the science, EPA is also pledging to take into account the threats to poor communities from global warming, as well as “other more recent significant peer reviewed studies.”

Many people have been focused on EPA completing the endangerment finding by April 2 — the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court opinion. But Jackson herself insisted last month that such a target was too ambitious.

“Somehow, I think in one interview I mentioned that I’m very mindful that we’re approaching two years on April 2 and suddenly that’s become carved in stone,” she said. “I don’t think that’s helpful and probably was certainly not my intention in saying that. That being said, I also want people to know that it’s very much something that people are waiting for this agency to speak on, one way or another.”

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11 Responses to DC to coal: You are a big danger to public health. Coal to DC: Kiss my ash.

  1. paulm says:

    Ok, hold the panic, we can relax again…

    Greenland ice tipping point ‘further off than thought’

  2. Andrew says:

    There is something wrong with the article from the Guardian cited by paulm. Temps during the Eemian were only 1 – 2 degrees C above today, not 5 degrees.

  3. David B. Benson says:

    Andrew — 5 K in north Greenland, 1–2 K globally.

  4. David B. Benson says:

    Gail — Not a prank. A variety of recent studies suggest 0.8–1.3 m by century’s end. Less than a quarter of Greenland’s ice.

    What’s confusing about that?

  5. Harrier says:

    So if I’m reading the EPA’s intentions right, they seem to want to give Congress a chance to pass Obama’s cap-and-trade system, then they’ll shape their own CO2 restrictions accordingly. Or, if Congress fails to pass a proper climate change bill, the EPA will have authority from this endangerment finding to start using the power of the Executive Branch to restrict greenhouse gas emissions.

    Moves like this make me glad all over again that I supported Obama from the start.

  6. Andrew says:

    RE: Benson Yes, but Greenland temps are expected to warm by 10-15 C plus by 2100 if global average temps reach 5C.

    The goal of the 350 movement is to keep CO2 to 350ppm in order to limit global warming to levels just below those of 125K YBP in order to preserve Greenland Ice though according to James Hansen, temps at that time may have been only 1C warmer than today.

    A global temp of 5-7C above today plus is now being predicted for 2100 if we proceed at business as usual. 5C will bring us back to conditions similar to those of the Paleocene – Eocene thermal maximum during which there were no ice caps. 5C global average temps will not only melt Greenland, but also all of Antarctica resulting in sea levels over 200′ above today’s level.

    This would not be good.

  7. paulm says:

    I think from the various reports recently we are definitely on for 3+ degrees around 2100 whatever we do now.

    We have basically overstepped the threshold. There is going to be a lot of hurt, even in the near future.

    This does not mean we give up on trying to right the CO2 levels. Onward to survival….

  8. Maybe we need to start naming the ash spill sites after politicians whose neglect has contributed to this disaster. To start, how about the George W. Bush National Park at the huge blighted area in Tennessee?

  9. David B. Benson says:

    George W. Bush National Sacrifice Area

  10. Chris says:

    I hope the next time a politician from West Virginia mentions “clean coal” someone brings up coal ash retention ponds. That or the wiping out of certain Appalachian mountains. Hmmm…or there is sulpher dioxide and mercury and a whole host of other pollutants.

    One of my questions is what happens to the emissions that are captured by the coal scrubbers? Where do they put all the “stuff” they capture? I’ve wondered the same thing about emissions from solar pv or wind power farms…oh wait, there are none. Sorry!