Mercury

Fri, 2014-09-12 14:00Connor Gibson
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Coal Lobbyist Jeff Holmstead Disqualified by Federal Judge in Ameren Pollution Lawsuit

Originally published on PolluterWatch

Jeff Holmstead, perhaps the nation's prime example of a revolving door lobbyist, was dismissed by a federal judge as an expert witness in a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against Ameren Missouri, a coal burning utility.

In an ongoing case, the EPA has charged Ameren with violating the Clean Air Act by not installing appropriate pollution controls at one of its coal plants. The Sierra Club has since sued Ameren, “alleging 7,880 air quality violations at three coal-burning power plants since 2009,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Judge Rodney Sippel granted U.S. Justice Department's request to remove Holmstead as a witness, confirming that the lobbyist's history at U.S. EPA posed “multiple conflicts of interest.” Here's the judge's motion to dismiss Jeffrey Holmstead, citing Holmstead's use of his EPA experience to undermine EPA's pollution enforcement actions (emphases added):

Mr. Holmstead’s legal opinions are irrelevant, speculative, and inadmissible.” […] “By his own description, Mr. Holmstead’s testimony relies on his recollection of EPA “internal meetings” that he says are relevant to the issues to be tried in this action. Such internal communications are privileged and confidential and Mr. Holmstead may not rely on his recollection of them to testify against EPA. Moreover, Mr. Holmstead received other privileged information concerning the issues about which he now seeks to testify on behalf of Ameren, and participated in power-plants enforcement cases related to this one while at EPA. Before he left EPA, he even personally provided a declaration for EPA that is at issue in this and other related power-plants enforcement cases asserting privilege claims on behalf of EPA over documents that are relevant to the opinions he now seeks to offer. Yet he now seeks to change sides and testify against EPA. Moreover, he was assisted in the preparation of his report by another former EPA attorney who was involved in the early stages of the investigation that ultimately led to the filing of this case. For the reasons discussed in the accompanying Memorandum, Mr. Holmstead should not be allowed to testify in this matter due to his multiple conflicts of interest.

This is a notable blow to Mr. Holmstead's credibility, who touts his time at EPA to obscure his lobbying to protect polluters from public accountability.

Tue, 2014-08-26 16:35Guest
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Mount Polley: A Wake-Up Call For Canada’s Mining Industry

Mount Polley Mine Spill

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

When a tailings pond broke at the Mount Polley gold and copper mine in south-central B.C., spilling millions of cubic metres of waste into a salmon-bearing stream, B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett called it an “extremely rare” occurrence, the first in 40 years for mines operating here.

He failed to mention the 46 “dangerous or unusual occurrences” that B.C’s chief inspector of mines reported at tailings ponds in the province between 2000 and 2012, as well as breaches at non-operating mine sites.

This spill was predictable. Concerns were raised about Mount Polley before the breach. CBC reported that B.C.’s Environment Ministry issued several warnings about the amount of water in the pond to mine owner Imperial Metals.

With 50 mines operating in B.C.— and many others across Canada — we can expect more incidents, unless we reconsider how we’re extracting resources.

Fri, 2014-08-15 13:00Carol Linnitt
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Swapping Red Tape for Caution Tape: Why B.C. Can Expect More Mount Polleys

mount polley mine tailings pond breach in BC

As we pull up to the mouth of the Hazeltine Creek, where billions of litres of mining waste from the Imperial Metals Mount Polley mine spilled into Quesnel Lake on August 4th, I’m thinking to myself what numerous locals have recently said to me: this shouldn’t have happened.

All of the warning signs were present that the waste pit for the mine was overburdened: employees raised the alarm, government citations were issued, engineering reports contained warnings.

It shouldn’t have happened, and yet it did.

Mon, 2014-08-11 12:50Chris Rose
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Fossil Fuels Raising Mercury Levels in Oceans: Study

An alarming new study has found that human activities mostly associated with burning fossil fuels has resulted in a massive increase in the levels of toxic mercury in the world’s oceans.

Published last week in the prestigious international journal Nature, the study, A global ocean inventory of anthropogenic mercury based on water column measurements, revealed that levels of the environmental poison in marine waters less than 100 metres deep have more than tripled since the Industrial Revolution.

Using water samples collected during research trips in the Pacific, Atlantic, Southern and Arctic oceans from 2006 until 2011, scientists analyzed mineral mercury levels attributed to fossil fuels, mining and sewage in both shallow and deep seawater.

While they found that mercury levels in ocean waters less than 100 metres deep had increased by a factor of 3.4 since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, concentrations of mercury throughout the entire ocean had only jumped about 10 percent.

The scientists were affiliated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Wright State University, Observatoire Midi-Pyréneés in France, and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.

With the increases we’ve seen in the recent past, the next 50 years could very well add the same amount we’ve seen in the past 150,” said Woods Hole marine chemist Carl Lamborg, who led the study.

The trouble is, we don’t know what it all means for fish and marine mammals. It likely means some fish also contain at least three times more mercury than 150 years ago, but it could be more. The key is now we have some solid numbers on which to base continued work.”

Tue, 2014-02-04 11:39Farron Cousins
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Duke Energy Spills Thousands Of Tons Of Coal Ash Into North Carolina River

Residents in the city of Eden, North Carolina are currently in danger of having their drinking water destroyed thanks to Duke Energy.  The coal giant has reported a coal ash spill in the Dan River with as much as 82,000 tons of the toxic pollutant released into the waterway.

According to EcoWatch, it took an astounding 24 hours after the accident occurred for Duke to issue a press release to inform the public about the chemicals that were very quickly making their way down river.  It is currently estimated that 22 million gallons of coal ash are now flowing along the river.  The spill has already been declared the third largest in U.S. history.

This was not an unavoidable catastrophe.

Duke was warned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in September 2009 that the coal ash storage site was falling apart, and the EPA even noted several instances of coal ash sludge already leaking from corroded pipes.  The EPA report also noted that portions of the dam that were supposed to be keeping the coal ash in its retention pond were crumbling.

The coal ash spill is the second major environmental chemical spill in less than a month, following the West Virginia chemical spill in early January.

Wed, 2013-12-18 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Despite Flaws, Pennsylvania Regulators Fast Track FirstEnergy Coal Ash Disposal Plans

Across the U.S., the shale rush has unleashed a frenzy of excitement about domestic energy supplies.

But the oil and gas produced from fracking comes along with billions of gallons of wastewater and tons of mud and rock that carry radioactive materials and heavy metals.

As problems with disposal mount, the industry has offered mostly vague promises of “recycling” to describe how the waste will be handled over the long run.

As the nation gears up to produce vast amounts of shale oil and gas — and the toxic waste that comes along with it — it’s worth taking a look back at the failures of another industry to handle its toxic waste responsibly — the coal industry. 

Communities across America are still struggling to resolve problems left behind decades ago from coal mining and related industrial pollution.

These aren’t merely yesterday’s problems – the ash from burning coal at coal-fired power plants remains the single largest wastestream in the U.S.

Tue, 2013-12-03 09:58Sharon Kelly
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Toxic Coal Ash Disposal Proves Costly and Hazardous, Duke Energy's Sutton Lake Contamination Questioned

A new report out from Wake Forest University concludes that coal ash waste from Duke Energy’s Sutton coal plant in Wilmington, NC is elevating levels of selenium pollution in nearby Sutton Lake. The lake, prized by fishermen for its largemouth bass population, has been contaminated, according to a study released today by Prof. Dennis Lemly, Research Associate Professor of Biology at Wake Forest, with high levels of selenium. Selenium has been linked to deformities in fish – including two-headed trout – and can cause a condition known as selenosis if people consume high enough doses in their food or drinking water.

Several conservation groups, including the Sierra Club and the Southern Environmental Law Center, which joined the University in announcing the findings, filed suit against Duke Energy Progress, Inc. this summer, arguing that pollution from the Sutton plant's coal ash is “killing a regional fishing lake and is threatening a community’s drinking water.”

The new report, which found that the coal ash pollution kills over 900,000 fish and deforms thousands more in Sutton Lake each year, is likely to bolster the plaintiffs' case in that suit.

The research also highlights one of the most fundamental problems with American energy policy: policy-makers and the public have been unwilling to recognize the true costs of the fuels we use to make electricity.

Wed, 2013-07-24 08:27Farron Cousins
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Report Details Coal Industry's Pollution of Waterways, Political System

According to a new report, the coal industry’s pollution is contaminating our water supplies, our regulatory agencies, and even our political process.  The report, a joint project by the Waterkeeper Alliance, Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and the Environmental Integrity Project, shows that when it comes to spewing toxic chemicals into our waterways, the coal industry is public enemy number one.

The report found that many coal plants across the country are releasing coal ash waste and scrubber waste without any federal oversight, and many are held to standards that are outdated and virtually limitless.  Many of the standards currently in place were written more than 30 years ago, and they do not include any regulations on toxic threats that had not yet been identified at the time the original rules were put in place.

A few highlights of the report, from the Sierra Club:

Of the 274 coal plants that discharge coal ash and scrubber wastewater into waterways, nearly 70 percent (188) have no limits on the toxics most commonly found in these discharges (arsenic, boron, cadmium, lead, mercury, and selenium) that are dumped directly into rivers, lakes, streams and bays.

Of these 274 coal plants, more than one-third (102) have no requirements to monitor or report discharges of these toxic metals to government agencies or the public.

A total of 71 coal plants surveyed discharge toxic water pollution into rivers, lakes, streams and bays that have already been declared impaired due to poor water quality. Of these plants that are dumping toxic metals into impaired waterways, more than three out of four coal plants (59) have no permit that limits the amount of toxic metals it can dump.

Nearly half of the coal plants surveyed (187) are operating with an expired Clean Water Act permit. 53 of these power plants are operating with permits that expired five or more years ago.

Wed, 2013-06-05 05:00Kevin Grandia
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Google Promotes Involvement in Coal Industry Campaign to Block EPA Mercury Emission Regulations

Google, the search giant with the famous motto: “Don’t be evil,” is boasting about its involvement in a 2012 coal industry lobbying effort to block the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ability to protect the public from dangerous and potentially lethal coal plant emissions, according to a recently discovered Google case study.

In February 2012, long time coal industry supporter, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) introduced a Congressional Review Act resolution proposing the elimination of the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for power plants. The emissions from coal-fired power plants are the largest human-caused sources of the neurotoxin mercury, arsenic, cyanide, and a range of other dangerous pollutants, according to the EPAInhofe's proposal was ultimately voted down in the Senate by a vote of 53 to 46.

Legislative and policy experts close to the issue said that if Inhofe's proposal had been passed, it would have removed vitally important public health protections more than two decades in the making that every year prevent up to: 

  • 11,000 premature deaths;
  • nearly 5,000 heart attacks;
  • 130,000 asthma attacks;
  • 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits; and
  • 540,000 days when people miss work and school

The EPA regulations, approved under President Obama, are designed to reduce emissions of mercury and other pollution up to 90 percent by requiring plant owners to install pollution control mechanisms. Energy companies oppose the regulations for being too costly. The lobbying campaign was initiated by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), whose membership includes electric utilities such as Southern Company and American Electric Power, two of largest air-borne mercury polluters in the country.

A Google promotional document, Four Screens to Victory [PDF], describes Google's involvement in the 2012 election cycle, and specifically highlights its role in garnering support for Inhofe's proposal to abolish the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards:

Sat, 2012-11-17 12:39Guest
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Coal Polluter Lobbyist Jeffrey Holmstead Confronted at Energy Event

This is a guest post by Connor Gibson, originally published at Polluterwatch.

At a well-attended energy forum hosted by Politico on Thursday, I shed some light on the role of coal lobbyist Jeffrey Holmstead in blocking pollution reductions for his coal utility and mining clients after he said we can't “regulate our way to clean energy.” Here's the video:

(Click for transcript of interruption)

UPDATE 11/16: Holmstead was later confronted on camera by Gabe Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project after the disruption at the Politico forum. Watch Holmstead re-write the history of his attacks on mercury pollution laws:

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