Sue Sturgis

Sue Sturgis is the editorial director of Facing South, the online magazine of the nonprofit Institute for Southern Studies in Durham, N.C.

West Virginia redefines dirty energy as “alternative”

When you hear the phrase “alternative energy,” what comes to mind? Solar power? Wind? Hydroelectric? Not for West Virginia’s political leaders. They think a little differently. In the recent legislative session, Gov. Joe Manchin (D) championed and state lawmakers approved an energy portfolio standard bill requiring 25% of generation to come from “alternative and renewable” sources by 2025. But the new standard, which goes into effect this month, has defined “alternative” to include natural gas, old tires, coal gas and even waste coal — energy sources that emit significant quantities of climate-warming greenhouse gases as well as toxic, health-damaging pollutants. …

alabama's ashhole?

Decision to dump TVA’s spilled coal waste in Alabama community sparks resistance

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved a plan last week to dump 3 million tons of coal ash that spilled from a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant in eastern Tennessee in an impoverished, largely African-American community in Alabama — and the decision is sparking resistance among local officials and residents who don’t want the toxic waste. The district attorney for Perry County, Ala. — where the privately owned Arrowhead landfill that’s getting the ash is located — said yesterday the federal government’s decision to bring the waste to his community was “tragic and shortsighted” and would endanger generations of residents, …

GO YELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN

Mountaintop removal defenders disrupt July 4th music festival in West Virginia

The Mountain Keepers Music Festival took place this place this July 4th weekend at a park on Kayford Mountain in West Virginia, an event organized by the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation in solidarity against mountaintop removal mining. But Saturday’s fun was disrupted when some 20 supporters of Massey Energy, a coal company with mountaintop removal mining operations in the area, crashed the festival and threatened attendees verbally and with obscene  gestures. People who were there report that some of the pro-mining protesters were wearing Massey Energy-issued blue and orange shirts. “You get off our goddamn mountain!” yelled one heavyset …

Coal ash contamination imperils July 4 festival goers in Tennessee

The city of Kingston, Tenn. plans to hold its annual July 4 “Smokin’ the Water” celebration tomorrow at a public park near Watts Bar Reservoir. The event is expected to draw as many as 25,000 people with festivities including raft races, boating and swimming. But the park is only a short distance downstream from the site of the massive coal ash spill from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston power plant — and test results released this week show dangerous levels of heavy metal contamination that could endanger the health of people who come in contact with the water. (Click here …

Slip Slidin' Away

Was the Tennessee coal ash disaster really a once-in-a-lifetime event?

A new report from an engineering firm hired by the Tennessee Valley Authority identified factors behind last year’s disaster that unleashed more than a billion of gallons of toxic ash from a massive storage pond at the federal company’s Kingston plant in eastern Tennessee. It claims that the disaster was a one-of-a-kind event — but skeptical coal ash watchdogs are calling for a more thorough investigation by federal authorities. “This type of explanation sounds eerily familiar,” says Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans. “When 125 people were killed in the Buffalo Creek coal slurry disaster of 1972, the coal company made the …

Murder by breath

Goodbye to Cancer Valley: In remembrance of my friend John Soley

John SoleyAfter a long struggle with cancer, my friend Mr. John Soley died at his home in Carbon County, Pa. on Saturday, June 20. He was only 62, which is too young to die of natural causes. But then, neither John nor I believe he got sick from natural causes. We believe he and many of his neighbors were poisoned by pollution, and that the perpetrators should be held to account. Outspoken in the local grassroots struggle against environmental injustice, Mr. Soley was a resident of Quakake Road north of Hometown, the rural Appalachian village where I grew up and …

Audit finds Tennessee Valley Authority misled on ash spill disaster

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Inspector General released a critical audit this week on the federal company’s response to last December’s massive ash spill disaster at its Kingston power plant in eastern Tennessee’s Roane County. The incident involved a failure in a coal ash containment pond that released more than a billion gallons of toxic waste into a nearby community and river. The interim report finds that TVA: * failed to implement the National Incident Management System in accordance with a Homeland Security Presidential Directive, which hampered communications and delayed emergency response following the spill; * released inaccurate and inconsistent information …

Wrong to know?

EPA refuses to reveal dangerous coal ash waste sites

Around the United States today, there are 44 coal ash waste disposal sites so hazardous that — were they to fail like the one at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston plant did last December — they could kill untold numbers of nearby residents. In fact, the sites are so dangerous that last week the federal Environmental Protection Agency began notifying local officials and first responders about the sites. In recent weeks the EPA has also deployed teams to determine whether any of them present an imminent threat. However, we don’t know where these hazardous sites are because the EPA is …

Do dirty coal plants make us more vulnerable to swine flu?

Scientists have discovered that exposure to a common pollutant may make people more likely to experience severe symptoms from swine flu — and it’s a pollutant emitted in large quantities by coal-burning power plants and other industrial facilities. The culprit is arsenic, a highly poisonous semi-metal which, according to a new study by researchers at the Marine Biological Laboratory and Dartmouth Medical School, compromises a person’s ability to mount an immune response to the H1N1 swine flu virus.  Most disturbingly, the study — published last month in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives — found that arsenic can weaken the immune …