coal ash

ALEC EXPOSED: Polluter Front Group's Dirty Secrets Revealed

  • Posted on: 18 July 2011
  • By: Connor Gibson

Crossposted from Greenpeace USA.

As revealed by The Nation and hosted by the Center for Media and Democracy’s new ALEC Exposed website, today marks a breakthrough in democratic transparency with the release of over 800 internal documents created by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

Who is ALEC?

Greenpeace has tracked the American Legislative Exchange Council and its role in the climate denial machine, along with the money it receives from polluters including Koch Industries and ExxonMobil to peddle doubt over established conclusions of climate scientists. Check out some of ALEC’s climate denier deeds at ExxonSecrets.


ALEC links state legislators with some of corporate America's largest and most dubious players—Exxon, Koch, coal giant Peabody Energy, and Reynolds Tobacco for example—to create model state legislation. State legislators who pay a small fee to become ALEC members are granted access to a large pool of draft bills and resolutions created by representatives of the corporate giants who finance ALEC, some of which also help govern the organization. ALEC creates a cover for state legislators who ultimately benefit from ALEC’s corporate supporters without having to disclose who pays for the corporate-handout policies they push in state houses across the country.

The Nation's John Nichols explains the ALEC agenda:

"ALEC's model legislation reflects long-term goals: downsizing government, removing regulations on corporations and making it harder to hold the economically and politically powerful to account. Corporate donors retain veto power over the language, which is developed by the secretive task forces. The task forces cover issues from education to health policy. ALEC's priorities for the 2011 session included bills to privatize education, break unions, deregulate major industries, pass voter ID laws and more. In states across the country they succeeded, with stacks of new laws signed by GOP governors like Ohio's John Kasich and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, both ALEC alums."

ALEC's Dirty Assault on Environmental Causes

ALEC has long served corporate polluters in attacking or preempting environmental protections through state laws. A revealing article in Grist linked legislative repeals from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to ALEC's draft legislation, offering polluters like Koch Industries another avenue of attack to bolster the work of other front groups, including Americans for Prosperity's pressure on states participating in RGGI. Center for Media and Democracy Executive Director Lisa Graves and The Nation have more details on the connection between Koch Industries and ALEC.

The over 800 internal documents revealed at ALEC Exposed brings other laws drafted by and for corporate polluters to light. Examples include:

• A 2010 resolution [PDF] resisting long-overdue EPA classification of coal ash as hazardous material. Coal ash is a leftover product from burning coal containing neurotoxins, carcinogens and radioactive elements—not the type of material that should be less regulated than household garbage (as it currently is).
 
• A 2009 resolution to dodge federal oversight of hydraulic fracturing [PDF] for natural gas by promoting state-level regulation of hydrofracking. New York Times reporting has shown state fracking regulations are notably insufficient. Currently, the private sector chairs of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force are Tom Moskitis of the American Gas Association and Martin Schultz, a lobbyist for a large firm representing dozens of corporate heavyweights including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway and oil supermajor ConocoPhillips.
 
• A 2008 resolution [PDF] to challenge the federal offshore drilling moratorium, which ignores the reality that offshore drilling won’t reduce gas prices. ALEC’s [Exxon-funded] language uses the American taxpayer as an excuse to push for more dangerous offshore drilling even as giant oil companies like Exxon take billions in taxpayer subsidies and make record profits. Currently, the private sector chair of ALEC's Civil Justice task force (which adopted the resolution) is Victor Schwartz of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, a law firm representing Peabody and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
 

The range of ALEC's model legislation provides a historical record of the most aggressive efforts to combat environmental protection. A resolution from 1998 getting states to oppose the Kyoto protocol [PDF] apparently passed in ten states and was introduced or passed by one legislative chamber in another ten states, according to an ALEC speech transcript. A resolution from 2002 shows ALEC’s role in early efforts to hijack chemical security legislation. After the U.S. Senate adopted a bill (S.1602) in July, 2002 that would have conditionally required the use of safer processes at high risk chemical plants, ALEC fought back, approving a Resolution in Opposition to S. 1602 [PDF] a month later. That fall, the chemical security bill fell on its face.

More to Come...

Greenpeace is continuing to research the contents of ALEC's documents. ALEC's template environmental bills repeatedly attack clean energy, push the most dangerous and dirty fossil fuel developments and try to roll back safeguards that reduce pollution. We will continue to update you on what we find.

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Peabody Punked, Still "Proud" of Dirty Electricity

  • Posted on: 10 May 2011
  • By: Connor Gibson

Photo Credit: Business Insider

A website campaign known as "Coal Cares" was launched on behalf of Peabody Energy today, offering to distribute free flashy inhalers to children living within 200 miles of a U.S. coal plant.

According to a statement released shortly afterward by Peabody, "The site is in fact a hoax, making inaccurate claims about Peabody and coal."

Sadly, Peabody's reputation doesn't reflect a willingness to own up to its ongoing peddling of coal, which causes death and illness from extraction to combustion. However, they are known for being Newsweek's most environmentally destructive company, their massive Black Mesa strip mining operation and persistent global warming science denial through mouthpieces like Fred Palmer and fronts like the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

Peabody's statement continues [emphasis added], "Peabody is proud to help hundreds of millions of people live longer and better through coal-fueled electricity," except of course for at least 13,000 people in the U.S. coal prematurely kills each year from air pollution alone, let alone the impacts of strip mining, rail transport, mercury contamination, and other phases of coal's life cycle. Check out the conclusions of Dr. Paul Epstein, director of Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment, for the True Cost of Coal.


While Peabody's statement pledges to be a "global leader" in scrubbing its inherently dirty operations, their money does not appear to be where their mouth is. Since the beginning of 2011, Peabody has already spent almost $2,000,000 on federal lobbying on numerous dirty legislative deeds, such as attacking the Clean Air Act, preventing pollution regulation of coal operations, promoting false Carbon Capture and Storage solutions, which the American Physical Society just declared to be prohibitively costly. Prior to 2011, Peabody spent over $20 million on similar efforts from 2008-2010, on top of almost $400,000 to federal politicians and their leadership PACs in the same time frame.

More about the Peabody prank can be found on the website of the Yes Men, who have taken credit for the actions that Peabody should actually commit to. Too bad for the asthmatic children whose parents do have to take economic responsibility for the coal industry.

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EPA Dramatically Inflates Economic Benefits of Recycling Coal Ash

  • Posted on: 3 January 2011
  • By: Connor Gibson

Photo Credit: New York Times

According to a recent report [pdf], the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has overestimated the economic benefits of recycling coal ash by twenty (20) times.  The EPA's estimate of $23 billion in annually economic benefit appears to have been based off of flawed methodology, contrasting with the federal government's own data suggesting an actual $1.15 billion annual total.  The report was released by the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and the Stockholm Environment Institute at Tufts University.

As DeSmogBlog and PolluterWatch revealed in late October, lobbyists hired by coal companies and associations spent a full four months lobbying officials from the EPA and the White House Office of Management and Budget to prevent proper regulation of coal ash before the American public was given a formal chance to add its voice.  These meetings, which were off-record, may actually have been illegal under the Administrative Procedure Act. 

The lobbyists that attended these meetings include Bill Tyndall of Duke Energy, John Pemberton of Southern Company, Anthony Kavanagh of American Electric Power, and Patrick Quinn, who represents several coal clients through his firm, the Accord Group.

...perhaps they had something to do with EPA's drastic miscalculation?

Coal ash slurry, which is a combination of water and materials leftover from the coal combustion process, contains ingredients that can cause cancer and brain damage as well as radioactive elements.  The toxic sludge is often stored in open impoundments (huge ponds) or injected into abandoned coal mines, causing major concern over drinking water contamination.  Some of these storage ponds have actually broken through their earthen dams, most recently demonstrated by the disastrous 2008 spill at the Tenessee Valley Authority's Kingston facility, which sent over a billion gallons of coal slurry into the community and river system below.

Yet coal ash is still not formally considered "hazardous" by the EPA, and is therefore still less regulated than household garbage.

More can be found at the Charleston Gazette

Background on the coal industry's lobbying to prevent regulation can be found in DeSmogBlog/PolluterWatch report, Coal-Fired Utilities to American Public: Kiss My Ash [pdf].

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Coal Ash: Blatantly and Egregiously Hazardous

  • Posted on: 18 November 2010
  • By: Connor Gibson

Coal Ash: One Valley's Tale

For information on the coal industry's backroom lobbying to prevent the classification of coal ash as "hazardous," check out the recent DeSmogBlog/PolluterWatch report, Coal Fired Utilities to American Public: Kiss My Ash [pdf]Also refer to the new Greenpeace map of high-hazard coal ash locations.

The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to decide whether or not to federally regulate coal ash, wrapping up the public comment period that began in late June.  Coal ash, a residual product from burning coal, contains known neurotoxins and carcinogens, such as arsenic, lead, and mercury.  The substance is also notably radioactive.

Coal ash is less regulated than household garbage, and there's enough of the sludge to flow through Niagara Falls for over three days straight.


While Little Blue Run pond may give the impression of a quaint place to go for a swim, it is anything but.  Owned by FirstEnergy, Little Blue Run is a coal ash impoundment right near the converging border of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio (check this map).  The waste stored in Little Blue Run is produced seven miles away at FirstEnergy's Bruce Mansfield Power Station

If the dam holding the pond's material were to break, 50,000 people in Ohio would be in immediate danger of a toxic flood.  As if this dramatic threat is not stressful enough, people in the area also live with the lingering concerns of water contamination and ailments from dry ash circulated by the wind.

Lisa Jackson and the EPA seem to have no doubt about the dangers of coal ash.  The agency found there is at least a 1 in 50 chance of developing cancer when living close enough to ash ponds, and recognizes that ponds like Little Blue Run have arsenic levels 900 times that of what is considered "safe". 

It is time for the EPA to see its job through, ending the needless poisoning of Americans unfortunate enough to live too close to the toxic messes Big Coal leaves behind.

 

Photo Credit: Duke University

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