On page 10 there is a full-page ad from Alabama Power entitled “Safe, Sealed and Secure.” Please go read it. I’ll wait.
Finished? OK, now I’d like to offer some thoughts.
If you’re a regular Lagniappe reader, you probably saw the series “Tensaw Timebomb” we produced this summer. It was a deep look at the issues surrounding Alabama Power’s decision to bury 21 million tons of toxic coal ash waste in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta right beside the Mobile River.
I’ll admit the series didn’t make things look too great for Alabama Power, primarily because they refused to answer many questions central to their decision to choose cap-in-place over excavation and removal of this mini ocean of toxic waste.
As is stated in AL Power’s ad, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indeed has given power companies across the U.S. two choices for closing the toxic coal ash ponds dotting the landscape after years of burning coal to make electricity, earning billions of dollars and dumping the ash into unlined ponds instead of properly securing it. But most states aren’t allowing power companies to take the cheaper, easier and less secure route of burying the coal ash in place. That’s because the reason these ponds are being closed is because the vast majority of them are in the groundwater and leaking arsenic and other toxins into the surrounding area. Polluters can always count on good ol’ Alabama to wallow in their filth.
While AL Power’s ad talks about 28 feet of clay providing some kind of barrier, the reason they have to close their pond at Barry Steam Plant and all the others across the state is because those ponds are actively leeching poisons into the groundwater. The mention of clay under Barry’s pond sounds like something, but it’s not. AL Power was fined by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) just last year for all of its coal ash ponds, including Plant Barry and its 28 feet of clay, leaking toxins into the groundwater. Maybe clay isn’t so impermeable after all.
“Bottom line, there has been no adverse impact to public health, drinking water or our vital river ecosystems through our management of coal ash at Plant Barry or any of our other sites,” the ad states near the end.
Notice groundwater wasn’t in that sentence. Pinocchio would actually approve of that bit of hair splitting.
How in the world can they say there has been no adverse impact when every single one of their ponds have been fined by ADEM in the last year? Does ADEM fine coal ash ponds for being too clean? For not leaking toxins? All five ponds received $250,000 fines — the maximum ADEM can dish out at one time — for leaching into groundwater last year.
Let’s take that a little further. Not only have all of AL Power’s coal ash ponds been fined for leaking toxins, this year the ONE coal ash pond that has been drained, reduced and capped in place was fined because it’s already leaking. That’s right, the one finished example we have of what Alabama Power intends to do at Plant Barry was fined by ADEM in May for continuing to contaminate the groundwater. Safe, sealed and secure? I don’t think so.
What you won’t see in any Alabama Power ad is a promise of what they’ll do if and when these capped-in-place ponds keep leaking. That’s because it’s simply cheaper for AL Power to pay five $250,000 ADEM fines a year than actually take care of the problem properly. And they know ADEM is in their pocket to the point the agency will never really drop the hammer in any significant way — such as fining them daily.
Another thing absent from Alabama Power’s ad is any recognition that most other states are requiring power companies to fully clean out their ponds and to put the toxic waste in lined landfills away from waterways. Also there is no mention of the massive levee breaches in other states that cost billions to clean up, ruined the health of people who worked on the spills and bred herds of lawsuits.
When we started our series, we asked Alabama Power a number of simple questions. They answered very few of them. We ran our questions and their complete, unedited answers on our website, lagniappemobile.com, if you want to read them.
They still have never said what they will do if a capped pond continues leaking, as appears to be happening in Gadsden. They’ve never told us how much money they’re making from the 3 percent rate increase the Public Service Commission gave them at the beginning of the year to take care of these ponds. They’ve also never explained why their sister company, Georgia Power, is excavating most of its ash ponds if capping-in-place is the safest and best way to do things. They are both parts of the Southern Company, so is Georgia Power doing it the wrong way?
Why do they dodge these questions? Probably because it’s all too clear why they really want to just bury 50 years of toxic waste in a swamp alongside a river in one of the rainiest areas in North America. It’s about money and politicians who are more than ready to lick some Alabama Power boots rather than force them to do the right thing.
Our elected leaders are running for cover on this issue and hoping to find a way to just let Alabama Power do whatever it wants. It would be amazing if people got as fired up about a clear and present threat in “America’s Amazon” as they do a toll on a bridge that’s not even being built. Maybe then something would be done. But AL Power slid a rate increase by everyone with nary a peep from anyone.
Permit approval time for capping Plant Barry’s pond is approaching and now the public relations campaign will kick into high gear. Ads are being placed, fake news websites like Yellowhammer News, Alabama Today and Alabama NewsCenter pump out disinformation guided by Alabama Power. AL Power money is no doubt being dangled for various pet projects across the area as well, just to keep the politicos in line. The push is on.
I’m sure some of you may wonder why we would let Alabama Power run this ad in Lagniappe if it is full of disinformation and omissions as I say. There are complex legal and ethical reasons, as well as our general belief the newspaper should be a marketplace of ideas. There’s also just the fairness of letting them have their say. Mainly though, it presents a perfect opportunity for the citizens of this community to read between the lines and see what Alabama Power won’t say.
And please don’t worry, dear readers, that Lagniappe will be “bought off” by Alabama Power. This is the first time they’ve ever advertised with us and I’d imagine it will be the last after this column. Trust we’ll use their money for this ad to keep you informed about what’s happening at Plant Barry and trying to get answers to all those pesky questions they’d like to bury in the mud with their 21 million tons of toxic waste.
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