On Monday, a bluff surrounding a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based power plant collapsed, sending a cascade of debris and coal ash waste from the power plant into Lake Michigan. No injuries were reported by We Energies, the company who owns the power plant, but the environmental assessment will likely be less optimistic. We Energies, a subsidiary of Wisconsin Energy Corporation (NYSE: WEC), has confirmed that the debris that made it into the river likely contained coal ash.
As of Monday afternoon, a “fuel sheen” appeared on the surface of Lake Michigan as a result of the bluff collapse. Cleanup crews from Clean Harbor were contracted by We Energies to help contain the spread of the sheen, and will be deploying about 1,500 feet of boom to help contain the waste on the surface. Shortly after the accident, residents living up to a mile away from the site along the lake were already reporting debris washing onshore.
As we have reportedextensively in the past, coal ash contains countless toxic substances, including mercury, hexavalent chromium, arsenic, and cadmium. It has also been reported to be more radioactive as nuclear waste. In spite of these findings, the EPA has yet to issue any firm stance on whether or not coal ash will be regulated as a “toxic waste,” partly due to the fact that the coal industry has unleashed a cadre of lobbyists to Washington to fight to protect their coal ash interests.
The EPA’s delay in issuing a ruling on coal ash has allowed the Republican-controlled Congress to gain the upper hand on the issue. In early fall 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would prohibit the EPA from regulating coal ash, and preventing them from classifying the substance as “hazardous.” Instead of EPA regulations, the bill would allow states to issue their own standards on coal ash and prevent any federal standards.
In spite of popular support for the EPA (77% feel the agency should be allowed to “do its job”), Manchin’s first piece of legislation has significant implications for undermining health, safety and environmental protections and bolsters Newt Gingrich’s recent calls to dismantle the EPA.
While Rockefeller has described the perils of global warming pollution: “Greenhouse gas emissions are not healthy for our Earth or for her people, and we must take serious action to reduce them,” he has also led the charge amongst centrist and dirty energy funded Democrats to prevent the EPA from using clean air laws to protect public health and the environment from global warming pollution. Indeed, for his efforts, Rolling Stone named him no.9 on its list of 12 politicians and executives blocking progress on climate action.
Dirty coal and climate denial are hot topics in West Virginia right now. Last week, acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D-WV) delivered West Virginia’s State of the State address where he gave a spirited defence of “carbon friendly” coal. Then the very next day the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stole the spotlight by vetoing what would have been the largest mountaintop removal project in the state.
Tomblin, who replaces former Governor and newly minted Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), emphasized his support for the expanded use of coal as a vital part of the nation’s energy mix. He also vowed to aggressively pursue West Virginia’s lawsuit against EPA until a more “sensible” approach can be found to regulate coal’s global warming emissions.
Governor Tomblin’s comments do not break new ground and will tie West Virginia to coal despite the fact that the industry negatively impacts the state’s economy. His counterparts Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and the aforementioned Joe Manchin are already well known for frequently overlooking the negative impacts of coal.
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.