ADEM Holds Public Hearing On Alabama Power’s Coal Ash Pond Disposal Plans

 1558088935 
1603279108

Alabama Power Company’s William Crawford Gorgas Electric Generation Plant, on the Black Warrior River.

Alabama Power Co.

Environmentalists and members of the coal industry filed into West Jefferson Town Hall Tuesday evening to give feedback on a proposed permit to allow Alabama Power Company to cover a local coal ash pond and leave the pollutants in place.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management hosted Tuesday’s event as part of its efforts to gather public comments on the permit, which specifically concerns the Plant Miller Ash Pond near West Jefferson. The permit outlines requirements for managing the coal ash, including facility maintenance and groundwater monitoring.

Alabama Power is seeking to treat and remove water from the pond before covering the coal ash in place, according to its website. Material located within 450 yards of the river would be excavated and moved farther away. Alabama Power also would monitor groundwater around the facility for at least 30 years.

The company has filed similar permits for plants in Gadsden and Greene County.

But some environmentalists say these efforts are insufficient and would result in dangerous pollutants leaching into the groundwater. Coal ash — a byproduct of burning coal for power plants — typically contains hazardous chemicals and heavy metals including mercury, arsenic, radium and cobalt. Ponds built to store coal ash generally lack a lining to prevent these substances for polluting groundwater and waterways.

Critics of the “cap-in-place” system argue that Alabama Power should instead be required to undertake the more expensive option of fully excavating the coal ash and moving the material to a lined landfill.

“The draft permit as written essentially allows pollution in place,” Keith Johnston of the Southern Environmental Law Center told ADEM officials Tuesday.

Johnston and representatives from other groups, including the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, pointed out that other Southern states have required utility companies to excavate their coal ash. For example, Virginia and North Carolina have recently ordered individual utility companies to remove coal ash from unlined sites.

They also highlighted previous fines Alabama Power has received for contaminating groundwater. Last May, Alabama Power was fined $250,000 for groundwater pollution from coal ash at Plant Gadsden. In 2018, ADEM fined Alabama Power $1.25 million for violations at five of its plants.

These incidences, Alabama Power’s critics argue, show that coal ash cannot be safely stored in unlined ponds.

Advocates of the permit said they had faith in Alabama Power’s ability to prevent contamination and maintained that the cap-in-place strategy is supported by both science and the law. ADEM already has made the preliminary determination that Alabama Power’s proposal would comply with state and federal waste disposal requirements.

Bill Blackman, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 136, told ADEM representatives that excavating and transporting the coal ash would introduce risks for an accident or a spill. Instead, he argues, it is much safer to deal with the material in place.

“[Excavating] the entire ash pond seems to be a bad option that doesn’t make much sense. The more you have human interaction with it, the more likely it is to have human error,” Blackman said.

ADEM will continue to accept comments from the public until 5 p.m. on Oct. 27 before making a final decision on the permit for Plant Miller.

Public hearings on the permits for Plant Greene County and Plant Gadsden will be held Oct. 22 and Oct 29, respectively.

 

WBHM to launch podcast featuring in-depth reporting on Alabama’s prisons.

WBHM 90.3 FM is launching a podcast, “Deliberate Indifference: the story of Alabama’s prison crisis and the people inside it,” the product of reporter Mary Scott Hodgin’s in-depth research on Alabama’s prisons. The first episode will be available Wednesday, May 18. Listen at DeliberateIndifference.org or wherever podcasts are available.

Judge’s ruling a “sigh of relief” for families of transgender youth

A federal judge in Alabama ruled to block part of a law that makes it a felony to provide gender-affirming care to minors on Friday. Families with transgender kids tell WBHM they are cautiously relieved.

Transgender medication law in Alabama blocked by judge

The law made it a felony to prescribe gender-affirming puberty blockers and hormones to transgender minors. U.S. District Judge Liles Burke issued a preliminary injunction to stop the state from enforcing the medication ban, which took effect May 8, while a court challenge goes forward.

JeffCo Probate Judge: tightened security will delay voting returns in the primaries

Jefferson County’s chief election official is warning that a new voting security measure will delay returns from the May 24 primary elections.

Inside the manhunt for an escaped murder suspect and jailer

U.S. marshals and sheriff’s deputies led an 11-day manhunt for an Alabama murder suspect and jailer who were heavily armed and preparing for a shootout when they were captured.

Alabama jailbreak mystery deepens as manhunt ends with death

Jailer Vicky White was pronounced dead at a hospital after murder suspect Casey White gave up without a fight in Evansville, Indiana. The fugitives had spent more than a week on the run through three states.

More BirminghamWatch Coverage