There are times to stand up and be counted, and this is one of them.
Mobile Baykeeper has been asking the mayors, county commissions and state legislators in Mobile and Baldwin counties to pass resolutions encouraging Alabama Power to dig more than 21 million cubic yards of toxic waste out of a muddy hole in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. Naturally, Alabama Power wants to go the cheapest and easiest route and simply drain and cover its massive coal ash pond, leaving it for all time to leach poisons into the groundwater and serve as an environmental Sword of Damocles poised to drop into the Delta anytime it rains hard.
You’d think it would be a no-brainer for those of us downstream from Plant Barry’s toxic mess, but this is Alabama and the power company has long arms and deep pockets.
This past week, Dauphin Island’s council and mayor showed guts and passed a resolution anyway. This is especially noteworthy since Dauphin Island is one of the communities farthest away from this ticking time bomb in the Delta. But they understand the danger to their way of life.
Mayor Jeff Collier put it this way: “I compare it to [BP’s Deepwater Horizon] oil spill in terms of potential consequences.”
This newspaper wrote its first article about the potential issues with Plant Barry’s coal ash pond in 2016 — three years ago. Over the past year we have written six more news articles and columns about the dangers presented by this unlined hole in the swamp.
Since 2017 Baykeeper has sought to educate local officials and released a report in 2018 explaining how this pond could poison one of the unique environmental regions in America. Yet there are still elected officials hemming and hawing about whether making Alabama Power move its mess is fair or even a good idea.
While Dauphin Island did the right thing, the Mobile County Commission demonstrated exactly why Alabama will always rank as a haven for industries that care least about the environment. At last week’s meeting, the Mobile County Commission failed badly when asked to craft a resolution urging Alabama Power to remove this toxic threat from the muddy banks of the Mobile River — the very river that flows right through downtown Mobile. All three commissioners chose to hide behind the skirt of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), an organization that has historically shown almost zero desire or ability to control Alabama Power’s pollution.
Council President Connie Hudson acted as if a resolution from the Commission would have little more relevance than sending Alabama Power a greeting card. She said the county has “no control” over what Alabama Power does, despite the fact the plant and its toxic lake are located in Mobile County and any toxins leaching from the pit are flowing through its waterways. Commissioner Merceria Ludgood, per usual, said little, but echoed Hudson and voted to let ADEM make the call.
Listen up polluters! The Mobile County Commission has just signaled they have “no control” over anything you do.
Most disappointing was Commissioner Jerry Carl essentially acting as Alabama Power’s public relations mouthpiece on the Commission. He parroted their fear mongering claims it could take 30 years to dig out and truck the coal ash to a lined landfill, and worried the massive costs of such an operation will be passed onto its customers.
One would hope after several years of this as a front-burner issue, and with coal ash ponds all over the country being excavated and moved, our commissioners could see it’s taking nowhere near 30 years to do so in other states. And Alabama Power already secured one 3-percent rate increase from the Alabama Public Service Commission in January, exactly for costs associated with closing coal ash ponds. The Commission should ask what they’re doing with that money.
Commissioner Carl, who is running for Congress, has been a good public servant and I hope his common sense isn’t riding shotgun to his ambition in this situation. It’s going to be hard running for office as someone fighting for the Little Man while pushing the agenda of a polluting conglomerate.
It’s just plain chickening out for Mobile’s County Commission to defer to ADEM in this situation. And the letter they sent to ADEM doesnt’ address any of Carl’s concerns.
Less than two weeks ago it was news all over Alabama that ADEM fined Alabama Power a measly $250,000 — the most it can — for leaching toxic chemicals from a similar unlined coal ash pond into the groundwater near Gadsden. That’s couch cushion change for AL Power. Oh, and by the way, that pond has already been capped off exactly the same way AL Power plans to handle the dump at Plant Barry.
These ponds are being closed because new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations in 2015 require the bottoms of these toxic pits to now be AT LEAST five feet above the aquifer (groundwater). So in the case of Plant Barry’s pond and many others across the state, less than five feet of mud is all that separates toxic sludge from the groundwater. How comforting.
So what’s to consider, Mobile County Commission?
How stupid do we have to be to let AL Power abuse us this way? How feckless are our elected officials to be more worried about Alabama Power’s desires or finances than the future of the local environment?
Alabama Power is guaranteed a huge profit by the Public Service Commission, an entity over which they have enormous influence. They are the only game in town as far as electricity goes, so worrying about their bottom line is ridiculous. Being pro-business does not have to mean being pro-pollution.
The time is now to stand up against this. Water permits and closure permits for Plant Barry are scheduled by the fall, and this baby didn’t just show up on the doorstep. Any county commissioner, city councilperson, mayor, state legislator or candidate for Congress who hasn’t done the homework on this coal ash pond by now is derelict in his or her duties. If you’re any one of those people, I’d say study up Buttercup, because exam time is coming.
We are in this position because Alabama politicians have always bent over for Alabama Power and for years allowed the company to dump toxic waste into a mud hole in a swamp. This is the price of electing jellyfish over and over.
Lately local politicians and leaders talk constantly about the importance of ecotourism and our unique Delta as the lynchpin for future economic success, but not once have these people said a word about removing the coal ash pond. Coal ash disasters in Tennessee and North Carolina serve as perfect examples of how bad it can be. They’ve cost more than $1 billion in cleanup, made people sick and ruined the environment. There is plenty of evidence as to what could happen in the Delta.
Elected officials, it’s time to take a stand. Nothing good can come of leaving 21 million cubic yards of toxic waste in the Delta. Nothing. Other states have outlawed this practice and are forcing these soulless companies to clean up their messes. That should be your goal too.
Don’t be on the wrong side of history on this.
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