The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Help tip the scales toward environmental justice for all: Here's how

Written by Appalachian Voices

Make your voice heard for environmental justice

The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council is seeking public input on a series of recommendations to the Biden Administration to address environmental justice issues across the United States. Air and water pollution caused by coal mining, toxic coal ash spills, and natural gas pipelines are a few examples of such problems in our region. These issues often impact low-income people and people of color the most, and there is a strong need for communities impacted by fossil fuels to build vibrant, diversified economies. 

This is a chance for you to communicate your concerns about how these environmental issues impact disadvantaged communities while important policy decisions are under development! 

The council will meet on May 13 to discuss:  

  • Environmental justice policy recommendations to Congress and the Biden Administration;

  • A new Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, which will help identify disadvantaged communities and target federal funding; 

  • Updates to a Clinton-era Executive Order (EO 12898) which directed federal agencies to address environmental justice issues in Black and Brown communities and among low-income populations. 

Public comments will be accepted in writing until May 27. To submit a written comment, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Register to attend the meeting or submit your comment today!

Public comments will help to inform the future work of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and they will be incorporated into the record for federal agencies’ consideration. 

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  • Lawsuit alleges TVA paid dues to industry trade groups that undermine environmental protections
    in News

    kingstonThe Kingston Fossil Plant in Kingston, Tennessee is shown in this file image from the Tennessee Valley Authority.

    TVA denies lobbying or cronyism, cites need for "expertise and analysis"

    Editor's Note: This report is a collaboration between Hellbender Press and Hard Knox Wire.

    A coalition of environmental groups who joined forces to stop the Tennessee Valley Authority from using ratepayer money to fund trade groups who lobby against the Clean Air Act and other environmental protections filed a federal lawsuit against the utility.

    The environmentalists claim the practice potentially raises conflicts of interest and throws into doubt TVA’s willingness to comply with clean air laws even as the utility retires its coal plants in order to transition to a mix of fossil gas and nuclear power.

    The 20-page lawsuit was filed Sept. 9 in federal court in Knoxville by a half-dozen groups, including the Knoxville-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). The groups aren’t seeking monetary damages other than court costs and legal fees.

    TVA has invested millions of dollars in measurable air quality improvements as it prepares to divest from coal as a main electricity source. Nevertheless, TVA paid membership dues to interest groups such as Edison Electric Institute (which is headquartered five blocks from the U.S. Capitol) and Energy and Wildlife Action Coalition, according to the plaintiff’s suit.

    "TVA has not been officially served with the lawsuit, so it would be inappropriate to comment on its specifics," TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said early Thursday.

    “As the nation’s largest public power provider and a federal agency, the Tennessee Valley Authority needs to demonstrate leadership by halting the financing of groups propping up the fossil fuel economy,” said Howard Crystal, legal director at CBD’s Energy Justice program. “Instead it funds these groups to do its dirty work while it moves forward with building new fossil gas plants. TVA can and must do better.” 

    TVA contends it merely wants to get input from multiple stakeholders with multiple perspectives.

    "As a federal agency, TVA is prohibited from participating in lobbying activities, and the TVA Board has directed that any dues, membership fees, or financial contributions paid to external organizations not be used for purposes inconsistent with TVA’s statutory mission or legal obligations.   
    "Like other major utilities, TVA’s membership in a diverse array of external organizations allows TVA access to specialized expertise and analysis that directly benefits all of our customers at a cost significantly lower than if TVA were to undertake such work alone."

    Maggie Shober, director of utility reform at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said TVA has a special responsibility to support environmental protections.

    “TVA is unique in the power industry in that environmental stewardship and economic development are codified in the agency’s founding mission,” she said. “It is imperative that the largest public power utility operate with accountability and transparency, stop funding anti-environment and anti-green jobs work, and invest in clean energy that will support the health of the Valley and the people who depend on it.”

    Daniel Tait, chief operating officer of plaintiff Energy Alabama, said: “TVA has forced its customers to make political speech by taking money from their utility bills and using it for anti-clean energy advocacy. We have repeatedly called on the TVA inspector general to investigate this misuse of customer funds but after hearing and seeing nothing, we felt compelled to act.”

    The path to the lawsuit began when the groups used the Freedom of Information Act to discover that TVA paid $200,000 in 2018 to the Utility Water Act Group, which lobbies against parts of the Clean Water Act. They also learned the utility was paying $500,000 a year to join the Edison Electric Institute, a group that represents all private, investor-owned utility companies in the country.

  • Clean-energy advocates take demands to base of TVA towers and power
    in Air

    IMG 4207Alex Pulsipher holds a sign demanding that TVA transition to 100 percent renewable energy at a rally Wednesday in Market Square in Knoxville. Courtesy Amy Rawe/Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

    Varied environmental groups offer unified plea for clean energy, coal ash management and accountability from TVA

    It was people power generating energy at Market Square in downtown Knoxville on Wednesday.

    A coalition of civic and environmental groups and their representatives met at the bottom of the two Tennessee Valley Authority towers urging the public utility to reopen meetings to public comment; swear off all fossil fuels by 2030; and carefully tend to the needs of those affected by coal ash and devise a plan to contain it for the safety of current and future generations.

    The event was punctuated by a march around the Market Square block where some 60 sign-waving and chanting marchers received supportive horn honks from motorists and encouragement from multitudes of outdoor diners — some of whom were handed information sheets and may have just been introduced to the real concept and causes of climate change.

    The last portion of the event featured coal-ash workers, a widow, orphan and wife sharing the pain associated with cleanup of the Kingston coal ash spill, which sent a wicked stew of slurry through areas adjacent to that coal plant in December 2008. Dozens of workers laboring under a contractor for TVA eventually developed serious illnesses and died. 

    Other coal-ash issues faced by TVA include recent reports that a playground and sports field adjacent to its Bull Run Fossil Plant in Claxton, Tennessee were contaminated with potentially deadly byproducts of coal ash mounded for storage nearby.

    Despite a decades-long effort to reduce local plant production, TVA is still a notable contributor to fossil-fuel emissions, ranging from its coal plants (which, including Bull Run, are up for retirement soon) to its natural gas-fired plants. Attendees at Wednesday’s rally called for a complete retirement of TVA carbon emissions and a transition to the use of purely renewable electricity

    TVA likely plans to replace the bulk of its power generated from coal-fired plants with natural-gas derived electricity.

  • FGS calls on TVA to get serious about addressing the climate crisis

    As Hellbender Press reported in April, the Tennessee Valley Authority plans to phase out its use of coal. And as we mentioned in an action alert, TVA is conducting a scoping process pertaining to the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for retirement and replacement of the Kingston Fossil Plant. TVA is preparing similar EIS for its other remaining coal-fired power plants as well.

    Although TVA lists "construction and operation of solar and storage facilities" in these scoping documents as an alternative for replacement of coal as the power source, it has made no secret of its belief that construction of gas-powered combustion turbines (CT) and natural gas pipelines to feed them will be the best solution to replace the outdated generation capacity.

    Unlike other power utilities, TVA has been making it more difficult, financially unattractive or impossible for distributed renewable energy, storage and even efficiency projects to get realized, according to proponents of renewables and some of TVA’s local power distribution partners. TVA also reneged on its agreement with other utilities to make large amounts of wind power available to the Southeastern United States through the Plains & Eastern Clean Line high-voltage direct-current power line project.

    Below, we reprint the statement submitted by FGS during the public comment period for the Kingston Fossil Plan Retirement.

    (Hellbender Press is a self-funded project of FGS).

     

    The Foundation for Global Sustainability urges TVA to truly step up to the challenges of climate change

    The action alternatives in the dockets for the replacement of TVA’s coal fired power plants are shortsighted and most disappointing.

    As a quasi-federal entity with a de-facto monopoly over a vast area of our nation, the Tennessee Valley Authority should strive to spearhead, exemplify, and not only meet — but exceed — most of the federal goals for decarbonization.

    By basing plans primarily on data of historic trends — unquestioningly projected into the future — TVA is apt to commit yet another horrendous miscalculation; it is prone to saddle itself with even more stranded assets.

    Addressing the climate change crisis

    Rarely a month passes without scientific discoveries of natural feedback mechanisms that aggravate the consequences of climate change. Signs that Earth’s natural life-support systems are approaching tipping points are multiplying.

    At the same time that uncertainty about prevailing conditions over the lifetime of infrastructure investments is growing, technologies are evolving at an increasing pace. Many private-sector corporations have already realized that time-proven business practices are no survival strategy.

    What’s called for today is more nimble management. TVA needs to focus on cooperative, adaptive planning for more flexible, responsive operations.

    A multitude of smaller investments that seek to attack problems from a diversity of facets will have greater probability of success than monolithic huge investments that are hard to revert, abandon, or repurpose.

    We encourage TVA to take a step back, to first look at what it can do to help improve the sustainability and resilience of our regional and local economies and of its large, small, and individual customers, WITHOUT investments that lock in carbon emissions for decades.

    Although we welcomed, appreciated, and supported TVA initiatives such as Energy Right, Green Power Switch and Generation Partners, one has to admit that in the larger context they amounted to little more than public relations Band-aids.

    Distributed renewable energy generation and storage

    It is high time for TVA to stop stonewalling renewable energies.

    The promising potential of widely distributed renewable energy generation and storage to minimize transmission losses and to boost community resilience is still largely untapped. It lends itself to easily manageable, quick turn-around, incremental projects that can readily be evolved and fine-tuned as new conditions, greater insights, and better technologies emerge.

    People in TVA’s service areas are no less likely to welcome and personally invest in solar energy and storage than the people of Germany have done, despite getting far less sunlight in their northern latitudes than we enjoy here; if only TVA relaxes its severe restrictions and abandons its adversarial stance.

    We call upon TVA to embrace, as major planning objectives, environmental sustainability and efficiency from energy generation all the way through end use.

    Sincerely,

    Wolf Naegeli, PhD
    President
    Foundation for Global Sustainability

  • Report: Full regional mine reclamation costs approaching $10 billion as companies forfeit cleanup bonds

    RepairingTheDamage ModernMines RA Infographic1024 1

    Report: Cascading bond forfeiture threatens surface mine cleanup

    A new report from Appalachian Voices warns that mining companies will increasingly abandon reclamation bonds as the coal industry continues to decline in the Southern Appalachians, adding to already extensive public liability for cleanup costs.

    Cleanup and reclamation with a price tag of nearly $10 billion must be still be done on 630,000 acres across seven states, according to the report, Repairing the Damage: The costs of delaying reclamation at modern-era mines.

    Reclamation of lands and waters destroyed by coal surface mining could create some 40,000 jobs across the affected regions, virtually replacing, at least temporarily, all the mining jobs that have been lost during the past decade.

    “The coal industry has declined precipitously in the last decade, raising the question of whether adequate regulations are in place to ensure that mined land is properly reclaimed,” according to a summary of the report, which was released July 7.

    “As more coal companies declare bankruptcy, fewer companies remain to take over mines, so the number of companies forfeiting mining reclamation bonds and deserting their cleanup responsibilities will only increase. In many states, the funds generated by bonding programs may fall short of the actual reclamation costs that are passed to state agencies and taxpayers,” according to Appalachian Voices.

     

  • Michaela Barnett wants to help break your consumer chains

    Michaela BarnettMichaela Barnett is the founder and owner of KnoxFill. She is seen here outside her South Knoxville home-based business in this submitted photo.

     

    KnoxFill offers Knoxville home delivery and pickup of sustainably sourced personal-care products in refillable containers

    Michaela Barnett has traveled the world, is an accomplished science writer and editor and is closing in on a doctorate from the University of Virginia.

    Now she’s a business owner with a focus on sustainability and waste reduction and that has proven to be her true raison d’etre. She gets out of bed with joyous purpose and determination. And she sings to start her day.

    “My husband says it’s like living with this annoying Disney character,” she said with a light laugh.   

    “I’ve got so much energy and joy and excitement,” said Barnett, who launched KnoxFill in March after eight months of research and preparation and works out of her home to fill multiple orders each day.

    KnoxFill offers sustainably sourced personal-care items, detergents and other everyday household products in reusable glass containers for pickup or delivery. The product line includes shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotions, laundry detergent, and dishwashing and castile soap. Barnett even offers safety razors, bamboo toothbrushes and refillable toothpaste “bites.”

    “We are very new, and small and mighty, and growing really fast. The community response has been beautiful, phenomenal. I’m overwhelmed in the best way by it,” Barnett said during an interview at her home and KnoxFill storeroom in a leafy neighborhood off Chapman Highway in South Knoxville.

    She and a part-time employee fulfill online orders via deliveries within select zip codes across Knoxville. Customers can also pick up their products from a fragrant cedar chest on Barnett’s porch, or at an expanding list of cooperating businesses, including Jacks, an eclectic coffee shop and plant nursery on North Central Street near Happy Holler in Knoxville.  

    Barnett is the daughter of a fossil-fuel executive and initially grew up “super conservative, evangelical, (and) home-schooled on a farm” in Ohio before her family relocated to Houston for her father’s job. Now she’s determined to help wean the world, starting with Knoxville, off the petrochemical plastics and packaging that dominate so many product streams.

    “We really need to move upstream in our waste system, instead of just focusing on downstream solutions, like recycling, and composting,” she said.

    “We need to make sure the waste never gets created in the first place.”

  • Keep your butts out of the Tennessee River

    Cigarette butt recycling bin 4

    Dollywood joins Tennessee Aquarium effort to limit the introduction of cigarette butts to our shared waterways.

    “As all humans need access to clean water, it’s an incredibly important treasure to protect.” — Dr. Anna George, Tennessee Aquarium vice president of conservation science and education.

    Cigarette butts are everywhere, and are perhaps so familiar they go unnoticed by the millions of people who pass them on our streets and roads.

    Not only are they unsightly, they contaminate our water resources — the puddles after a sudden rainstorm, the streams that flow through our landscapes, and the stormwater drains that ultimately lead to the Tennessee River. The butts quickly break down, polluting water with “tiny plastic fibers and a devil’s cocktail of chemical compounds,” according to the Tennessee Aquarium.

    The Chattanooga aquarium has partnered with Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful, an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, to stem the rising tide of cigarette butts in our waterways.

    Dollywood has also embraced the effort, making it the first theme park in the world to recycle all properly disposed cigarette butts.

    “One cigarette filter can contain enough toxins to kill aquatic life within two gallons of surrounding water,” said Kathleen Gibi, executive director of Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful.

    The action fits the mission of Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful, which is to inspire the public to take action to protect and preserve the Tennessee River and its tributaries across a seven-state region encompassing Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky.

    Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful and the Tennessee Aquarium have partnered to install cigarette-butt recycling receptacles on the aquarium’s campus. They placed eight of these bins in heavily traveled locations.

    “Everybody contributes to the river, whether positively or negatively, so finding stakeholders and inspiring them to take action is what will make the biggest impact,” Gibi said. She also emphasized the importance of the Tennessee Aquarium’s educational programs in protecting water quality.

    The aquarium’s eight cigarette-butt bins are among more than 480 such bins that Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful has installed within the river’s watershed. The shared effort will install another 90 during the coming months.

    Dollywood is among the 73 sites that have installed bins, making it the first theme park in the world that recycles all the cigarette butts it collects, Gibi says.

    Partnering to remove cigarette filters from the river is only part of the aquarium’s ongoing mission to understand the impact on freshwater habitats from microplastics pollution.

    Dr. Anna George, the Aquarium’s vice president of conservation science and education, said, “It’s urgent to understand better ways to manufacture and dispose of plastics, so we reduce their impact on the environment.”

    The Tennessee Aquarium recently installed a new exhibit in the River Journey Building where visitors can discover the impact of microplastics on freshwater environments. The Tennessee Department of Transportation funded this exhibit as part of their Nobody Trashes Tennessee litter reduction campaign.

    In September 2020, the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and the University of Georgia River Basin Center convened a digital gathering of 50 researchers conducting pioneering studies into the impact of microplastics on freshwater systems.

  • It’s time we start wearing our hearts on our sleeves!

    In the spirit of Thinking Globally, Acting Locally, consider what you can do to help Mother Earth and its inhabitants.

    Adopting a more sustainable life style to reduce one's personal ecological footprint is easier to wish for than to accomplish. Some measures that would reap a significant  environmental benefit, such as making a home more energy efficient, may require a substantial investment of physical effort, time and money that will pay back over time only.

    Deliberate choice of clothing, however, is a simple course of action for anyone to start making a big difference in social justice, climate impacts and environmental conservation.

    The fashion industry is responsible for around 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — more than maritime shipping and international flights combined!

    World production of clothing has doubled in the last 15 years. Until the 1950s, it was common for garments to be used until worn out after having been passed along to second and third wearers. Nowadays, that's a rare exception. Most items end up in a landfill within days or weeks after having been purchased and worn just a few times. Massive amounts of overstock items are routinely discarded, not having been used once.

    Low prices — made possible by cheap synthetic fibers produced with fossil fuels and by sweatshops that churn out textiles under often inhumane conditions — contributed to this relatively new phenomenon of consumerism.

    Along with single-use packaging, plastic fibers common in today's textiles are a major source of invisible microplastic fragments that float in the air we breathe and get into the water that leaves the washing machines. Some of these particles may absorb toxic chemicals and be taken up and accumulated by fish, livestock and, eventually, humans.

    Sustainable Jungle, an Australian nonprofit, has an excellent article about the global predicaments caused by the fashion industry. This is a treasure trove of great ideas, practical suggestions, experiences and links to further how-to instructions. It will not only help you get off the fast-fashion treadmill, it will aid you in discovering or creating a style that accentuates your personality.

    Sustainable Jungle: How to Avoid Fast Fashion
    See also ScienceDirect: Plasticenta — First evidence of microplastics in human placenta
  • Saving America's "Amazon" in Alabama
    Book cover Saving Americas Amazon in Alabama

     

    Alabama is home to remarkably diverse ecosystems:
    They face dire threats.

    This story was originally published by The Revelator.

    When longtime environmental journalist Ben Raines started writing a book about the biodiversity in Alabama, the state had 354 fish species known to science. When he finished writing 10 years later, that number had jumped to 450 thanks to a bounty of new discoveries. Crawfish species leaped from 84 to 97 during the same time.

    It’s indicative of a larger trend: Alabama is one of the most biodiverse states in the country, but few people know it. And even scientists are still discovering the rich diversity of life that exists there, particularly in the Mobile River basin.

    All this newly discovered biodiversity is also gravely at risk from centuries of exploitation, which is what prompted Raines to write his new book, "Saving America's Amazon.".

    The Revelator talked with Raines about why this region is so biodiverse, why it’s been overlooked, and what efforts are being made to protect it.

    Question: What makes Alabama, and particularly the Mobile River system, so biodiverse?

    Answer: The past kind of defines the present in Alabama.

    During the ice ages, when much of the nation was frozen under these giant glaciers, Alabama wasn’t. The glaciers petered out by the time they hit Tennessee. It was much colder but things here didn’t die.

    Everything that had evolved in Alabama over successive ice ages is still here. We have a salamander, the Red Hills salamander, that branched off from all other salamander trees 50 million years ago. So this is an ancient salamander, but it’s still here because it never died out.

    The other thing you have here, in addition to not freezing, is that it’s really warm. Where I am in Mobile, we’re on the same latitude as Cairo. So the same sun that bakes the Sahara Desert is baking here.

    But we also have the rainiest climate in the United States along Alabama’s coast. It actually rains about 70 inches a year here. By comparison, Seattle gets about 55 inches. It makes for a sort of greenhouse effect where we have this intense sun and then plenty of water. Alabama has more miles of rivers and streams than any other state.

    Things just grow here.

    The pitcher plant bogs of Alabama, for example, are literally among the most diverse places on the planet. In the 1960s a scientist went out and counted every species of flowering plant in an Alabama pitcher plant bog. He came up with 63. That was the highest total found on Earth in a square meter for a decade or more.

    For a long time the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was thought to be the center of oak tree diversity in the world because they have about 15 species of oaks in the confines of the park. Well, two years ago scientists working in this area called the Red Hills along the Alabama River found 20 species of oak trees on a single hillside. It’s just staggering.

    Why is Alabama’s rich biodiversity not well known or studied?

    The state was never known for being a biodiverse place until the early 2000s, when NatureServe came out with this big survey of all the states. It surprised everyone because it showed Alabama leading in aquatic diversity in all the categories — more species of fish, turtles, salamanders, mussels, snails.

    This blew everybody away because Alabama in everybody’s mind is the civil rights protests of the 1960s, the KKK, steel mills and cotton fields. But that’s not what’s in Alabama, that’s what we’ve done to Alabama since we’ve been here.

    I think part of it also has to do with being a long way from Harvard and Yale and Stanford and the great research institutions that were sending biologists all over the world. Alabama just wasn’t really studied or explored.

    Again and again, the story in Alabama is that nobody has ever looked.

    That’s one of E.O. Wilson’s big messages about Alabama. He is our most famous living scientist, I would say, or certainly biologist. He grew up here, and now in his twilight years his big mission has become trying to save Alabama. And he describes it as less explored than Borneo and says we have no idea what miracle cures and things we may find in the Mobile River system, which is what I call “America’s Amazon.”

  • The coal plant next door: The sad and long legacy of coal ash in Georgia
    in Air

    This story from ProPublica is shared via Hellbender Press under a Creative Commons license. Click here for the entire ProPublica story, including illustrations and photos. 

    By Max Blau for Georgia Health News

    ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

    Series: Sunken Costs

    Coal Ash in Georgia

    Mark Berry raised his right hand, pledging to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The bespectacled mechanical engineer took his seat inside the cherry-wood witness stand. He pulled his microphone close to his yellow bow tie and glanced left toward five of Georgia’s most influential elected officials. As one of Georgia Power’s top environmental lobbyists, Berry had a clear mission on that rainy day in April 2019: Convince those five energy regulators that the company’s customers should foot the bill for one of the most expensive toxic waste cleanup efforts in state history.

    When Berry became Georgia Power’s vice president of environmental affairs in 2015, he inherited responsibility for a dark corporate legacy dating back to before he was born. For many decades, power companies had burnt billions of tons of coal, dumping the leftover ash — loaded with toxic contaminants — into human-made “ponds” larger than many lakes. But after a pair of coal-ash pond disasters in Tennessee and North Carolina exposed the environmental and health risks of those largely unregulated dumps, the Obama administration required power companies to stop using the aging disposal sites.

    Berry had spent nearly two decades climbing the ranks of Southern Company, America’s second-largest energy provider and the owner of Georgia Power. By the time he was under oath that day, company execs had vowed to store newly burnt coal ash in landfills designed for safely disposing of such waste. But an unprecedented challenge remained: Figuring out what to do with 90 million tons of coal ash — enough to fill more than 50 Major League Baseball stadiums to the brim — that had accumulated over the better part of a century in ash ponds that were now leaking.

    Georgia Power would have to shut down roughly 30 ponds from the Appalachian foothills to the wetlands near the Georgia coast. After draining all the ponds, the company would have two options for disposing of the highly contaminated dry ash left behind: It could either move the ash into a landfill fitted with a protective liner, or pack the dry ash into a smaller footprint and place a cover on top — leaving a gaping hole in the ground that, in some places, would be the larger than Disneyland. The former would cost more but vastly reduce the possibility of toxic leakage; the latter lowered expenses but would perpetually risk contaminating drinking water in neighboring communities.

    As scientists had grown more aware of the threat posed by coal ash, Southern states like Virginia and North Carolina had forced utilities to move ash into lined landfills. But Georgia was something of an outlier. The state historically was known as a coal ash capital, a place where lawmakers touted their pro-business bona fides by denouncing regulations, and Georgia Power had a track record of delaying or blocking efforts to regulate pollution. The company was lobbying hard for the cheaper option.

    Of course, the $7.3 billion price tag wasn’t all that cheap. Sitting on the Georgia Public Service Commission’s witness stand, Berry and his top deputy spent hours arguing that the whopping costs of cleaning up Georgia Power’s coal-ash ponds should be passed along to its customers. If Berry could persuade the regulators that the costs were both “reasonable” and “prudent,” the company could tack a monthly fee onto the bills of 2.2 million residential customers for decades to come, which would work out to each customer footing $3,300 of the bill to clean up the company’s mess. If he failed, the commissioners could effectively force Georgia Power to eat those costs — a major blow to investors in a publicly traded company that has annual operating revenues of over $8 billion.

    During Berry’s testimony, PSC commissioner Tim Echols said he has concerns about putting ratepayers on the hook for the costs of cleaning up the ash ponds — and whether Georgia Power is spending more than it has to. “This is enormously expensive,” he said.

    Berry didn’t mention that the cleanup costs could increase by billions of dollars if Georgia’s environmental officials adopted the safer standards used by neighboring states. Anticipating Echols’ next question, Berry said that Georgia Power’s $7.3 billion plan was the “most cost-effective way” to comply with coal-ash regulations.

    “If we were to do something less,” Berry added, state environmental officials “would force us to go back and redo what we did not do right the first time.”

    Had those five energy regulators swiveling in their chairs asked more pointed questions about Georgia Power’s waste-disposal practices, Berry would have been pressured to tell a long-hidden story about ash and avarice. In the second half of the 20th century, Georgia Power had saved money by building some of America’s largest coal-ash ponds without a protective liner underneath, despite knowing some of the risks of contaminating residents’ drinking water. It had also sought to do as little as possible to protect drinking water that’s now believed to be tainted by coal-ash toxins.

    A yearlong investigation by Georgia Health News and ProPublica has revealed that Georgia Power and its parent company have spent millions of dollars on lobbying tactics to dodge billions in environmental costs. Thousands of pages of previously unpublished documents obtained by the news organizations shed new light on how Georgia Power leveraged political tensions to reduce a massive financial liability that could decimate its bottom line — and how it pushed disinformation to distance itself from patterns of sickness among people who lived near its coal-ash ponds.

  • Green energy to blame for Texas grid collapse? Not so much.
    NYT: Fossil-fuel defenders falsely blame renewable energy sources for crippling Texas electric grid collapse

    Politicians and media personalities spread lies that cited frozen wind turbines as the reason millions lost power across the oil-rich state during an unprecedented intrusion of cold air in mid-February.

    In reality, it was a failure of the natural gas supply chain caused by unusually low temperatures and rare snow and ice accumulations. Some turbines did fail because of ice accretion, but wind power provides only a small fraction of Texas electricity, which is distributed by a deregulated network independent from the rest of the national power grid.

    Fossil-fuel allies also cited the unprecedented deep freeze and accompanying winter storms across much of the nation as evidence global warming doesn't exist.

    In fact, climate change fueled largely by carbon emissions means more devastating climate-linked weather anomalies can be expected, both in winter and summer. In this particular event, Arctic disruptions in the jet stream allowed frigid polar air to descend much farther south than it typically does.