Nel's New Day

March 5, 2014

Water Shortage from Conservative Waste

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 10:46 PM
Tags: , , , ,

When 300,000 people in West Virginia couldn’t use any of their water supplies except for flushing toilets, their dilemma hit headlines day after day. The crisis in Ukraine came along, and the news media turned in unison to another big story. Today, one of the nation’s largest coal producers agreed to pay a $27.5-million fine and spend $200 million to reduce illegal toxic discharges into hundreds of waterways across five Appalachian states. This fine is the largest thus far for violating water pollution permits, but the information will appear on the back pages of the paper if at all.

The violations covered the years between 2006 and 2013 when Alpha Natural Resources Inc. and dozens of subsidiaries exceeded the permits up to 35 times over 6,000 instances. Alpha bought the company from Massey in 2011 after it was fined $20 million in 2008 for other pollution violations. Both companies discharged contaminants such as heavy metals from almost 800 outfall pipes directly in water sources such as rivers, streams, and tributaries.

West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky will get half the fine while the remainder goes to the federal government. It appears that Virginia and Tennessee get nothing.

The settlement for pollution from mines and processing plants comes nearly two months after the spill of a coal-cleaning chemical near Charleston (WV) closed down businesses, schools, and other facilities throughout the area when the only usable water for over 300,000 people had to be shipped in. That disaster was followed by polluted water in North Carolina’s Dan River after the rupture of a pipe underneath a coal ash impoundment at a Duke Energy Power plant. Two weeks after the 82,000 tons of coal ash went into the river, officials found a second Duke pipe leaking water with very high levels of arsenic. How long, no one knows. Danville (VA) gets its drinking water from the Dan River.

North Carolina regulators are a large part of the state’s pollution problem: last year they stopped three Clean Water Act lawsuits which would have forced Duke to clean up its toxic coal ash pits. The state’s offer to handle enforcement at all of Duke’s 31 coal ash storage ponds protected the company from further lawsuits. Gov. Pat McCrory worked for Duke for 30 years, and the company donated at least $1.1 million of his campaign. A former state regulator has said that he told her not to fine or cite polluters.

While the country focused on the Dan River disaster, coal slurry spilled into a West Virginia creek that leads to the Kanawha River. The mix of solid and liquid waste contains the same chemical that spilled a month earlier. Unnerved by the loss of usable water in their state, West Virginia inspectors started an unofficial inventory of above-ground storage tanks that could impact drinking water and located over 1,600 of them in the state thus far. These could be subject to new rules if protective legislation ever passes. 

Until now, the EPA has been almost helpless to save the water of the nation. A federal court vacated the agency’s attempts to regulate the pollution from mountaintop coal mines, and there are no federal limits on chemicals piped from coal waste sites into water sources. Five years after a spill from a Tennessee coal ash pond covered 300 acres, the EPA still has no rules governing coal ash disposal.

A February district court ruling may help the EPA—at least a little bit—when it threw out a Bush decision that had eliminated a decades-old policy protecting streams from the spoils of mountaintop mining. The word “spoil” refers to the broken rock coming from drilling, blasting, or bulldozing mountaintops that is moved to valleys and streams. A few days before Bush left office, his administration removed the buffer zone around streams to keep the toxic spoil from waterways. The Interior Department admitted that it didn’t consider the Endangered Species Act impacts when it made the 2008 decision to allow pollutants in the streams.

If coal advocates in the House pass a bill applying the Bush buffer zone to all states, the EPA won’t be able to protect water sources from “spoil. Even with Bush’s buffer zones overturned, regulators refuse to enforce the earlier buffer zone.  Other bills, both federal and state such as the Tennessee bill to outlaw mountaintop removal, could help the EPA.  Last year, the EPA also got a boost from the ruling that it could veto “dredge and fill” permits. The EPA’s rejection of a permit stopped one of the largest mountaintop removal mines in West Virginia history.

The EPA is also entering the fray of fracking. Although it cannot regulate most of the chemicals used in the process—the majority of them unknown—it has been allowed since 2005 to control, but not stop, the use of diesel in the process. Until mid-February, it had not done so, but it is now requiring permits for the use of diesel. At the same time that frackers insisted that they did not use diesel, they denounced the new EPA direction. The EPA also claims to be developing regulations about fracking on public lands.

While corporations like Duke Energy cost taxpayers in cleanup costs, they pay no taxes. A five-year study showed that 26 of these companies paid no federal corporate income taxes. During that time, Duke made a profit of over $9 billion but received $299 million in tax rebates while paying zero taxes.

Last Friday, the governor of West Virginia lifted the emergency, don’t-use-the-water order after 50 days of deprivation. Yet residents still smell the licorice odor that alerted them to the chemical in the first place. After 50 days, there is no more free drinking water, and many people are paying hundreds of dollars for the water necessary to flush the pipes. This is in just one area of the United States. In other areas, pipelines make water resources unusable, and fracking uses 3 to 8 million gallons of water per day that can’t be reused, even if the wells don’t further pollute groundwater.

The lack of water is a world-wide problem. Since 1990, half the rivers in China have disappeared; considering the greed of many leaders in the U.S., people may be willing to sell them our water, leaving us without necessary resources. This would be the mentality of people who believe “we have enough regulations,” as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said after the recent West Virginia water debacle.

The United States is one of the countries that is overpumping its aquifers. The Ogallala Aquifer that supplies the central area of the United States that provides much of our food will be gone “in our lifetime,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kansas is taking excessive water out of the High Plains Aquifer for corn and beef: 30 percent of the groundwater is gone, and another 39 percent will disappear in another 50 years with the current trend. Most of the rivers and creeks have dried up after 60 years of pumping.

Even chickens are polluting the nation’s waters. Maryland produces 1.5 billion pounds of poultry waste that goes into the Chesapeake Bay. Yet Gov. Martin O’Malley refuses to allow a $.05 tax per chicken to clean up their mess.

At this time, the majority of the world’s population lives within 31 miles of an endangered water source. Trade policies give corporations the right to claim “ownership” of water. By 2030, global demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 percent.

Right now, naysayers will claim that the drought in California is over and that the plentiful snowfall across the United States proves that we will have no water shortage. They’ll turn back to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) thundering speeches about the weakness of President Obama’s leadership. These people won’t pay for their waste; their grandchildren will.



  1. Watery wisdom…


    Comment by Lee Lynch — March 6, 2014 @ 12:19 AM | Reply

  2. I guess water is the next oil.


    Comment by renxkyoko — March 5, 2014 @ 10:55 PM | Reply

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