Clean Coal Strikes Again

Looks like another coal slurry mess polluting a river in Tennessee:

Coal mining waste has tainted several miles of the New River in East Tennessee in violation of a permit held by Premium Coal at a plant in Devonia, TN, according to state information.

The release of a fine, grayish-black material that results when separating coal from shale and rock is estimated to have lasted 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Jan. 2.

The state was not notified at the time, as required, said Tisha Calabrese-Benton, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment said.

Of course not! The glorious free hand of the market was supposed to fix the problem! Oppressive government agencies like the Tennessee Dept. of Environment & Conservation just get in the way of the natural order of things!

TDEC says slurry was found seven miles downstream, while the activist group Community eMpowerment says black water was seen 40 miles downstream from the coal processing plant. Just keep repeating: coal is cheap! And clean! And cheap!

And since we’re talking about “clean” coal, I’ve been wanting to update folks on the cleanup from our last big coal slurry disaster, the devastating 2008 Kingston Coal Ash spill, which dumped 1.1 billion (that’s with a “b”) gallons of toxic coal ash sludge into the Emory and Clinch Rivers, obliterating everything in its way (including homes). The cleanup involved hauling the toxic goop over 300 miles away to a landfill in Alabama, which just so happens to be located in Alabama’s poorest county. It’s also, surprise surprise, a predominantly African-American county. While landfill operators touted the 30 jobs and $3 million in “host fees” Perry County would receive, I wrote at the time that this placed the community in the untenable position of choosing between poverty and poison.

I wrote then:

And if taking this coal ash waste were such a great thing, well, we’ve got some landfills here in Tennessee, in counties that could use those jobs and that money. Gotta ask yourself why we’re shipping it out of state to begin with.

Well, it appears the residents of Perry County, AL asked that same question and have filed a civil right lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Environmental Management:

The complaint charges ADEM with violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funds. ADEM receives millions of dollars in financial assistance from the EPA each year.


The population of Perry County is over 68 percent African-American, and over 35 percent falls below the poverty line, making it Alabama’s poorest county. The landfill is located near Uniontown, Ala., a community where 88 percent of residents are African-American and almost half live in poverty. The population in the census blocks surrounding the landfill range from 87 to 100 percent African-American (click on map for larger version).

The landfill sits only 100 feet from the front porches of some residents, who say they have experienced frequent foul odors, upset appetite, respiratory problems, headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. They also complain that fugitive dust from the facility has contaminated their homes, porches, vehicles, laundry and plantings.

This is how the “free hand of the market” works in America. Coal is cheap, we tell ourselves, and it fuels our glorious lifestyle, and government support of clean technology like wind and solar is socialism. And then when the inevitable disaster strikes, we make our poorest citizens suffer the longterm consequences. Oh right, and be sure to tell these poor people living with radioactive, arsenic -laden coal sludge that their health problems are just proof of how irresponsible they are. Any notion they had of getting some kind of access to the world’s best healthcare is just more crazy socialism talk.

Anyone who can’t see how all of these issues are connected is simply lying to themselves. And who is going to solve this problem? The man from Bain Capital who fired thousands so his company could be more profitable? The intellectual policy wonk who is allergic to drama?

No. It’s our problem. We caused it. We are the ones who demanded “cheap” electricity, so we’ll just ignore the costs on things like healthcare, blame the people who are suffering, remind ourselves we’re a Christian nation, drop a check in the collection plate on Sunday and call it a day.

How much longer can we operate like this? Not much, I’m afraid.

Wake up, America.


Filed under ash spill, clean coal, eco-justice, environment, EPA, racism, Tennessee

4 responses to “Clean Coal Strikes Again

  1. Pingback: Coal Slurry Spill Found In East Tennessee | The Daily Buzz

  2. ThresherK

    Did Rachel Maddow get through the Holiday season without playing that “singing coal” Frosty the Snowman song?

    I knew some vital part of my seasonal cheer was missing.

  3. Cole Minor

    I am amazed at the fact so many people have a negative outlook on coal. Yes, Premium Coal had a slurry spill. Was this spill on purpose? NO? Of course it was an accident. I am a local citizen of the Devonia Community, I have no health problems nor am I exposed to anything radioactive, especially from the coal washer. Coal has and will continue to not only support my family, but as well as my community. Just because you have been told not to like something and be against it, does not mean you have to make irrational choices and go against something. If Premium Coal was not around or was no more, our community would crumble. Coal Mining is one of the best jobs ANYONE can have in ANY state, it is a good, honest and hard days worth of work. BUT at the end of the day my family members and the members of my community can rest knowing they are able to provide for their families yet another day. OF COURSE, there are going to be those who oppose coal. Let me ask you this, do you use ELECTRICITY, do you enjoy your HEAT in the winter?? Then why bash coal? I SAY ANY ONE AGAINST COAL CAN FREEZE IN THE DARK. I am sure over 50% of those who are out there opposing coal are JOBLESS HIPPIES. Do you want the unemployment rate to raise higher?

    Coal mining is a way of life. It is a GREAT but dangerous job, NOT because of RADIOACTIVE SLUDGE, it is dangerous because these men/women are willing to go under ground & strip mountains to get the coal out.
    When mountains are stripped, the coal is removed. THEN, GUESS WHAT HAPPENS? The mountain is reclamied, replacing trees, resowwing grass, proper areas for water drainage, and ultimately making that land MORE suitable for local wildlife. The mountain is not only reclaimed, but is maintained from there on out. I know for a fact I could walk those of you who think you know what a stripped mountain looks like around and show you various mined mountains, you would be amazed at how well those mountains look. If you just think coal is so horrible, why not be happy for the miners because they are removing the coal (thats another way to look at it!).

    This is my opinion, BUT I think every “hardcore” enviromentalist needs to focus their attention else where and let those of use who depend on coal live our lives for once! If you would only open your eyes, YOU depend on COAL TOO! WAKE UP!!! Why try to take our jobs and lives away? Maybe they could..I dont know go get a real job and stop lurking in our parts of the country trying to start trouble!

    • People have a negative view of coal because it’s dirty, it’s environmentally destructive along all three planks of the the use platfrom (mining, use and waste disposal), and its greatest supposed benefit — being “cheap” — is a lie when these things are factored into consideration. Which industry leaders always do their damnedest to make sure we never get to do. They are coal ash spills ALL the time that never get reported or get the major national attention that Kingston did.

      The worst part about coal is that we have alternatives. Viable alternatives that aren’t nearly as destructive.

      Coal has a long tradition and history in America, I get that, and perhaps that’s why some folks are culturally attached to the industry but that’s no reason to keep it alive long past its usefulness.

      I’m glad YOU don’t have any health problems but millions of other people do. And as I’m always reminding my conservative readers: it’s not all about YOU. Other people live on this planet too. Look beyond your own nose for once.