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EPA Revokes Water Permit for W. Va. Mountaintop Mine

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revoked a permit for one of the country’s largest mountaintop removal coal mines on Thursday.

Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County was previously granted a Clean Water permit under the Bush administration in 2007, but its construction has been delayed by lawsuits. Environmentalists and local residents say the operation would hurt streams and local communities, while Arch says the mine is necessary for West Virginia’s economy.

The federal government nine months ago moved to rescind the permit for the 2,3000-acre project, which would bury seven miles of streams, devastate wildlife and endanger human health with hazardous pollutants.

“The proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine would use destructive and unsustainable mining practices that jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and clean water on which they depend,” said Peter S. Silva, the EPA’s assistant administrator for water, according to the New York Times. “Coal and coal mining are part of our nation’s energy future, and E.P.A. has worked with companies to design mining operations that adequately protect our nation’s waters. We have a responsibility under the law to protect water quality and safeguard the people who rely on clean water.”

The decision has already been met with defiance by the St. Louis-based coal company, which plans to challenge the veto in court.

“We remain shocked and dismayed at E.P.A.’s continued onslaught with respect to this validly issued permit,” said spokeswoman Kim Link, according to the Times. “Absent court intervention, E.P.A.’s final determination to veto the Spruce permit blocks an additional $250 million investment and 250 well-paying American jobs.”

“Furthermore, we believe this decision will have a chilling effect on future U.S. investment,” she added, “because every business possessing or requiring a permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act will fear similar overreaching by the E.P.A. It’s a risk many businesses cannot afford to take.”

This is only the 13th time the agency has revoked a water permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Posted in Coal, Groundwater, Springs & Aquifers, Pollution & Toxins0 Comments

Judy Bonds, W. Va Coal Mining Opponent and Activist, Dies

Judy Bonds, a West Virginia environmental activist who spearheaded the opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining, died Monday evening, AP reported Tuesday. She was 58.

Bonds, a coal miner’s daughter and self-proclaimed “hillbilly,” is credited with bringing the issue of widespread strip mining in the West Virginia mountains into the public eye.

Mountaintop removal (MTR) involves blasting away mountaintops to expose the seams of coal underneath. The environmental impact of the process is simply devastating.

For Bonds, the battle with MTR began when the West Virginia hollow where her family had lived for six generations was threatened by a Massey Energy strip mine and slurry dam, NPR reports.

She said she knew she had to take action when her grandson found dead fish in a stream her family had enjoyed for six generations.

“‘What’s wrong with these fish?’ he asked. That day I knew that if I didn’t do something, that would be the future of our children,” she told AP in 2003.

Massey Energy, one of the Appalachian region’s largest coal producers, became Bonds’ biggest adversary. She and the group she directed, Coal River Mountain Watch, frequently led protests against the Richmond, Va.-based mine operator.

Bonds testified against MTR at regulatory hearings and filed lawsuits against the process, AP reports. In 2003, she received the $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize for her activism.

Coal River Mountain Watch co-director Vernon Haltom told AP that Bonds, who had cancer, died Monday evening at a hospital.

“Judy will be missed by all in this movement, as an icon, a leader, an inspiration, and a friend,” Haltom said in a statement on the environmental group’s website. “No words can ever express what she has meant, and what she will always mean. We will tell stories about her, around fires, in meeting rooms, and any place where people are gathered in the name of justice and love for our fellow human beings.

“When we prevail, as we must, we will remember Judy as one of the great heroes of our movement. We will always remember her for her passion, conviction, tenacity, and courage, as well as her love of family and friends and her compassion for her fellow human beings. While we grieve, let’s remember what she said, “Fight harder.”

Posted in Coal, Non-Profits & Non-Governmental Organizations0 Comments

China Develops Nuclear Fuel Technology

China says it has developed the technology to reprocess nuclear fuel and use the recycled material to radically raise its power supply.

A report on China’s state television, CCTV, said Monday that the country currently has enough uranium to last 70 years. The scientific breakthrough could make that supply last up to 3,000 years.

The technology to recover fissile and fertile materials to generate new fuel will allow China to break away from its dependence on coal and diversify its energy sources, UPI reported Monday.

China currently has 13 operating reactors, but the new process will require an ambitious program of building a number of additional industrial power stations.

France, Britain and India already have their own reprocessing operations, UPI said.

Posted in Air Pollution Prevention, Coal, Nuclear0 Comments

Groups Oppose EPA Analysis of Coal Ash Prior to Regulations

Three environmental groups are challenging figures in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s report on coal ash, a potentially harmful byproduct of coal-burning in industrial facilities and power plants.

The dispute comes as the EPA prepares first-ever regulations for the disposal of coal ash in the wake of the catastrophic Tennessee Valley spill that dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of the sludge into the Emory River two years ago.

The agency is considering two proposals. The first would give the toxic residue a “hazardous” label and impose new federal regulations for construction of containment facilities. The second option, heavily favored by industry supporters, would classify the substance as “non-hazardous” and encourage facilities to recycle their coal ash into building materials like cement and drywall.

The Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and the Stockholm Environment Institute’s U.S. Center released an analysis of the EPA’s findings Wednesday claiming that the agency has exaggerated the value of coal ash recycling. The EPA stated in its report that the practice is worth $23 billion in health benefits, pollution avoidance, and lowered energy costs. The groups estimate the annual worth of coal ash recycling to be $1.15 billion while posing serious risks for the environment and human health.

“The concern we have is so loudly exaggerating the economic benefit of coal ash recycling,” said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project, according to Bloomberg. “The noise that creates has sort of drowned out the concern over health and safety of properly disposing this kind of material.”

The groups voiced their support of the stricter program, which they say would protect communities near power plant-operated coal ash containment ponds.

They also noted in a statement Wednesday that there are as many as 50 unregulated coal ash dumps around the country similar to the one that broke down in the Tennessee Valley two years ago.

EPA spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara said the agency would review the report along with over 400,000 public comments submitted to officials.

Posted in Coal, Hazardous Waste, Industrial Pollution, Industrial Waste, Minerals & Mining, Toxic Substances, Water Pollution0 Comments

Rockefeller Asks Obama Administration for Mining Accident Update

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., has requested that the government update the families of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion victims on the ongoing federal investigation of the accident.

The Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration has not provided the families of the 29 miners with any information since September, Rockefeller said in a letter to U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

“Three months is too long for these families to wait for information,” Rockefeller wrote, according to The Associated Press. “I request that MSHA meet with these families as soon as possible, and that you provide me with the expected date that this briefing will occur. Further, I would also request an update on the status of MSHA’s investigation, including when we can expect the investigation to be completed.”

The April 5 disaster occurred 1,000 feet underground in a Massey Energy mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia. It was the deadliest mining accident in the U.S. since 1970.

In addition to MSHA’s civil investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice is also conducting a criminal probe. Massey Energy denies responsibility for the accident, claiming the blast was caused by an unexpected overflow of natural gas. MSHA has largely rejected this explanation, AP reports.

The agency announced that it plans to meet with the families after the holidays.

“Our response to Senator Rockefeller’s letter will provide additional details, including an outline of our ongoing efforts to keep the victims’ families up to date on the status of the investigation,” the Labor Department said in a statement.

Posted in Coal, Minerals & Mining, Policies, Politics & Politicians0 Comments

EPA Takes Over Texas Carbon Emission Permits

The Environmental Protection Agency Thursday announced its plans to take over carbon dioxide permitting of any new power plants and refineries in Texas, citing the state’s refusal to comply with emissions regulations going into effect Jan. 2.

Texas industries have openly opposed the Obama administration’s Clean Air Act, a program designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions. They claim that the cuts will threaten productivity, and that the economy, in turn, will take a hit.

The EPA said Thursday that it was reassuming the state’s Clean Air Act Permits because “officials in Texas have made clear . . . they have no intention of implementing this portion of the federal air permitting program,” The Associated Press reported.

“EPA prefers that the state of Texas and all states remain the permitting authority for (greenhouse gas) sources,” the agency said in a statement. “In the same way that EPA has worked with other states and local agencies, the agency stands ready to do the same with (Texas).”

The EPA constructed a framework for carbon emissions regulations in seven other states: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon and Wyoming.

The agency also devised a timetable for establishing the cuts for all U.S. facilities and power plants. It plans to propose performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions beginning in July for powerplants and for oil refineries by December. The standards will be finalized in May 2012 for powerplants and November 2012 for refineries.

Gov. Rick Perry spokeswoman spoke out against the EPA’s decision to directly issue air permits in Texas.

“The EPA’s misguided plan paints a huge target on the backs of Texas agriculture and energy producers by implementing unnecessary, burdensome mandates on our state’s energy sector, threatening hundreds of thousands of Texas jobs and imposing increased living costs on Texas families,” Cesinger said, according to the San Antonio Express.

An estimated 167 new or expanding projects would be subject to the EPA takeover. Texas lays claim to more oil refineries, chemical plants, and coal-fired power plants than any other state and produces the most greenhouse gas emissions and industrial pollution in the country, AP reports.

The new carbon emissions standards were adopted after a 2007 Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases should be classified as pollutants under the Clean Air Act and EPA research in 2009 revealed that the gases have a harmful effect on human health.

Posted in Air Pollutants, Air Pollution, Coal, Courts & Litigation, Drilling for Oil, Energy Industry, Global Warming, Laws & Regulations, Oil & Petroleum, Ozone, Policies, Pollution Prevention0 Comments

Mercury Levels in Fish Puzzle Scientists

RALEIGH, N.C., Oct. 6 (UPI) — In a surprise finding, U.S. researchers say fish located near coal-fired power plants have lower levels of mercury than fish that live farther away.

North Carolina State University researchers say the result may be linked to high levels of another element, selenium, found near coal-fired facilities, which can present problems of its own, a release by the school said.

“We found that fish in lakes located at least 30 kilometers (18 miles) from a coal-fired power plant had mercury levels more than three times higher than fish of the same species in lakes that are within 10 km (6 miles) of a plant,” Dana Sackett, a doctoral student at N.C. State, said. “This information will inform health and wildlife officials who make determinations about fish consumption advisories and wildlife management decisions.”

The results were unexpected since coal-fired power plants are the leading source of mercury air emissions in the world and a significant amount of that mercury is expected to settle out of the air within 6 miles of a plant’s smokestacks.

The researchers theorize lower mercury levels near power plants are likely linked to selenium levels, as fish tested within 6 miles of a plant showed selenium levels three times higher than samples taken from fish located further away. The higher the selenium level, the lower the mercury level, the researchers found.

Selenium, also emitted by coal-fired plants, is known to have an antagonistic relationship to mercury, though the specific mechanisms at work at not completely understood.

High levels of selenium pose their own risks, scientists said.

“Selenium is an important dietary element,” said Dr. Derek Aday, associate professor of biology at N.C. State. “But at high levels, it can have serious consequences — including lethal effects and an array of health problems for fish and wildlife.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Coal, Consumption, Fish, Other0 Comments

S. Africa Looks to Solar, Nuclear Power

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Sept. 29 (UPI) — South Africa, subject to electricity rationing and rolling blackouts, says it will invest in a solar power farm to meet increasing electricity demands.

The solar park will be built in the Northern Cape Province and generate 5,000 megawatts of energy, about 11 percent of the country’s current power production, the BBC reported.

South Africa has been rationing electrical power since 2008.

Presently, most of the country’s electricity is generated by coal-fired power plants.

The country, which also supplies electricity to a few neighbors including Zimbabwe, needs to increase its energy production by 40,000 megawatts during the next decade, the energy department says.

The Northern Cape was the ideal location for the park, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said, and the project would create 12,300 construction jobs and more than 3,000 maintenance and operations positions.

The country is also considering a nuclear plant, which would be its second such installation, officials said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Coal, Electricity, Other, Solar0 Comments

Wind Power Green but Costs More Green

LONDON, Sept. 28 (UPI) — Wind power, while good for the environment, carries a price tag twice that of a natural gas- or coal-fired power station, British researchers say.

A report by the U.K. Energy Research Center said Britain’s massive expansion of wind farms, both offshore and on land, was based on underestimated costs of wind power in the mid-2000s, the Daily Mail reported Tuesday.

Over the next 10 years, the British government plans to build up to 10,000 new wind turbines to meet tough climate change targets, the newspaper said.

Instead of the predicted falling costs, in the last five years the cost of buying and installing turbines and towers at sea has gone up 51 percent, the report said.

Once the bill for building and maintaining an offshore wind farm is spread over the 25-year lifespan of a typical installation, each kilowatt hour of electricity costs 24 cents.

That’s nearly twice as expensive as electricity from conventional coal and gas power stations, which costs 13 cents, and more than nuclear, which costs 16 cents, the report said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Coal, Electricity, Natural Gas, Other, Wind0 Comments

Pa. Kayaker Finds Ancient Tree Fossil

PITTSBURGH, Sept. 6 (UPI) — A Pennsylvania man kayaking on a local river found a tree fossil embedded in a rock at the river’s side that experts say is almost 300 million years old.

Shaun Blackham of Demont, Pa., was paddling his kayak on the Kiskiminetas River in Armstrong County in July when he spotted the fossil imprinted on the surface of a rock, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.

“There it was, staring me right in the face,” said Blackham, 45.

The plant fossil was 3 to 4 feet long and 10 to 14 inches wide.

Blackham kayaked back to the site later and photographed the fossil.

He e-mailed the photos to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

Museum geologist Albert Kollar recognized the fossil as bark from a now-extinct lepidodendron tree, a large, palm-like tree that grew in coal swamps during the Carboniferous period of the Paleozoic Era.

“It was a pretty interesting find,” Kollar said.

Blackham has enjoyed history and the outdoors since childhood, he said, and has found other, smaller fossils in the area.

“This kind of brought the kid out in me again,” he said. “I always thought it would be cool to find something of this magnitude.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Coal, History, Other0 Comments

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