News & Events
News & Events
IN THE NEWS
EPA coal ash standards a setback for environmental groups
12-20-14 | Raleigh News & Observer | By Dylan Lovan, Travis Loller and Dina Cappiello, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Six years ago, there was a massive spill of coal ash sludge in Tennessee. Three years later, tons of coal ash swept into Lake Michigan. Last February, there was another spill and gray sludge spewed into the Dan River in North Carolina.
With each disaster, environmentalists sounded alarms and called for the byproduct of burning coal to be treated as hazardous waste. On Friday, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the first standards for the coal-burning waste, but they were hardly what environmental groups were hoping for.
The EPA ruled that the ash can be treated like regular garbage, meaning regulating the stuff will be left up to states and watchful citizens.
"We had to go to court to force EPA to issue this first-ever coal ash rule, and unfortunately, we will be back in court to force coal plants to clean up their ash dumps and start disposing of their toxic waste safely," said EarthJustice attorney Lisa Evans.
Added Scott Slesinger of the Natural Resources Defense Council: "Unlike the majority of environmental standards — which are backstopped by federal enforcement — this rule all but leaves people who live near coal ash dumps to fend for themselves." read more
EPA won't regulate coal ash as hazardous waste
12-19-14 | Raleigh News & Observer | By Bruce Henderson
The first federal rules on coal ash from power plants, released Friday, set the bar generally lower than North Carolina did in responding to Duke Energy's February spill into the Dan River.
The Environmental Protection Agency said it will regulate coal ash as solid waste, such as municipal garbage, instead of as a hazardous waste. Ash contains elements that can be toxic in water.
That decision leaves it to utilities to comply with the new federal rule, without federal enforcement. States can adopt similar standards if they choose, but enforcement is otherwise left to citizens by filing lawsuits.
"It's good that EPA is setting the first national standards for groundwater monitoring and cleanups," said Eric Schaeffer, a former EPA enforcement chief now at the Environmental Integrity Project. "But we're concerned that it relies too much on industry self-policing."
Industry groups praised the federal decision, saying the designation as non-hazardous would continue to make ash available for reuse in products such as concrete. Environmental advocates said EPA missed a chance to rein in a waste that's known to contaminate water.
The federal rule requires groundwater monitoring and says contaminating ash ponds have to be closed. It sets design, siting and inspection standards for ash ponds or landfills, including protective liners for new ones.
North Carolina's law, which took effect in September, bans new ash ponds and closes existing ones over 15 years. It expands groundwater monitoring, already underway, that has found contamination at each of Duke's 14 North Carolina power plants.
Unlike the EPA rule, the state doesn't allow inactive ash ponds to be capped without further study of their environmental impacts.
Industry practices and some state standards already eclipse the EPA in some ways, said Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which has filed citizen lawsuits against Duke.
"This is not the industry standard, but the industry minimum," Holleman said of the federal rule.
Dam's rating goes from worst to best
10-10-14 | Daily American Republic | By Donna Farley
PIEDMONT, MO - Clearwater Dam has become the first project in the nation to go from the highest risk of failure to the lowest held by American dams.
The Piedmont structure now is a model for future dam repairs, after 12 years and more than $210 million of work, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The dam was re-evaluated in the spring, losing its DSAC 1 classification for a DSAC 4 ranking, said Fred Esser, interim operations manager.
The DSAC 1 ranking in the Dam Safety Action Classification System means high urgency - a dam will almost certainly fail under normal operations - and, at DSAC 4, low urgency.
About 450,000 people visit Clearwater Lake annually, and the dam is credited by the corps with preventing more than $278 million in flood damage since it was completed in 1948. Original dam construction cost less than $10 million.
About a dozen dams remain at high urgency. These projects are adapting the work done at Clearwater for their repairs, said David Howell, a resident engineer during much of the repairs.
There is a fifth safety class -- normal -- but none of the nearly 700 Corps-owned dams has reached that rank, Esser said, because there always is some risk.
"There is no perfect dam," he said.
The Clearwater project manages 18,606 total acres, according to the corps. It includes 1,630 acres of water, with more than 10,350 acres of water at the top flood pool. read more
Updated Earthquake Map Shakes Up Risk Zones
7-17-14 | LifeScience.com, Louisville | By Laura Geggel
Parts of 42 states are at risk of earthquakes during the next 50 years, according to a new report from the U.S. Geological Survey.
The report includes updated maps that show geologists' predictions of where and how often future earthquakes may occur, and how strongly they may shake the ground.
Many of the at-risk states are in the country's western half, but the map also highlights hotspots in the Midwest and Southeast.
There are 16 states that have regions labeled as being at high risk for seismic activity, because they have histories of earthquakes measuring a magnitude of 6.0 or greater: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
In making the new maps, geologists considered data from earthquakes that have struck since the maps were last updated, in 2008.
In California, new information about faults in San Jose, Vallejo and San Diego have raised earthquake risks there. In contrast, the cities of Irvine, Santa Barbara and Oakland have reduced risks, thanks to new insights on the faults in those areas.
The new USGS maps are part of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, a partnership of four federal agencies: USGS, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Science Foundation.
The information in the report could guide new building codes, geologists at the USGS said in a statement. The maps will also help set insurance rates and emergency preparedness plans. Private homeowners can consult them when deciding whether to reinforce their homes to make them more earthquake-safe.
Mark Petersen, chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project, noted that "It is important to understand the threat you face from earthquakes at home and the hazards for the places you might visit." read more
Feds deny stimulus for Taum Sauk reservoir
07-04-13 | St. Louis Post-Dispatch | By Jeffrey Tomich
Energy regulators have rejected Ameren Missouri's bid to get federal stimulus funds for rebuilding the upper reservoir of its Taum Sauk hydroelectric power plant — the giant mountaintop pool that ruptured in 2005. Such grants are more commonly awarded to developers of wind farms and solar projects. But St. Louis-based Ameren asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month to certify the increased capacity at the Reynolds County pumped storage plant as a green-jobs project, making it eligible for stimulus funds. The grants are awarded under a provision of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act meant to generate jobs and subsidize clean energy projects. read more
Report card shows states have a lot of infrastructure work to do
05-22-13 | The Kansas City Star | By Rick Montgomery
With grades like these, America's infrastructure may never get a diploma. Bridges in Kansas: D-plus. Dams in Missouri: D-minus. Overall infrastructure across both states: Does C-minus earn anyone a star? Civil engineers are tough graders. A few gathered in Kansas City on Wednesday to deliver a report card that pretty much stank. Back in March, when the American Society of Civil Engineers issued an infrastructure report card for the entire country. Dams were damned in both Kansas and Missouri, earning D-minus scores. read more
Seven Ameren Missouri ash ponds rated 'poor' by EPA
11-28-11 | St. Louis Post-Dispatch | By Jeffrey Tomich
More than half of the 12 Ameren Missouri coal ash ponds inspected for structural integrity last year were rated "poor" by the Environmental Protection Agency, which recommended the utility take action to strengthen them. A nationwide review of coal ash impoundments was prompted by the December 2008 Kingston, Tenn., ash spill, considered among the nation's worst environmental disasters. Summaries of the findings of the inspections were only recently made available on the EPA's website, and the agency has yet to make full reports available because Ameren claims they contain proprietary information. read more
Levee woes spur evacuation order on Missouri River in Atchison County
06-06-11 | The Kansas City Star | By Kathleen Pointer
Atchison County, Mo., is under a voluntary evacuation order after two partial breaches in a Missouri River levee and rising waters have worried officials. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be releasing more water than it ever has from dams along the river by mid-June, meaning there probably will be other levee problems like the ones in Atchison County in far northwest Missouri, said Kevin Grode with the corps' water management office. The expected mid-June release of 150,000 cubic feet per second more than doubles the 1997 record at Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota. read more
Corps reviews emergency action plan with local responders
03-25-11 | Cedar County Republican | by Becky Groff
Representatives from law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services, the county commission, National Weather Service, State Emergency Management Agency and the county and city emergency management office were in attendance at a meeting Wednesday, March 16, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding the corps' emergency action plan should there be a failure of Stockton Dam. read more
Ameren lawsuit vs. Taum Sauk insurer tossed out
01-16-11 | St. Louis Post-Dispatch | By Jeffrey Tomich
More than five years after the catastrophe at Ameren Missouri's Taum Sauk hydroelectric plant, the St. Louis utility is still scrambling to recover more than $30 million from one of its insurers.
Those efforts were stifled last week, at least temporarily, when a federal judge in St. Louis threw out the company's lawsuit against Energy Insurance Mutual Ltd., a joint venture among utilities that's structured as a mutual insurance company. U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson granted the insurer's motion to dismiss the case because its contract with Ameren called for the parties to arbitrate any dispute before suing. The insurer also successfully argued that the parties had agreed that any lawsuit would be filed in the Southern District of New York.read more
Ameren UE unveils a revamped Taum Sauk reservoir
05-28-10 | St. Louis Post-Dispatch | By Jeffrey Tomich
LESTERVILLE, Mo. A wide swath of barren earth zigzagging down the side of Proffit Mountain is the only visible reminder of the disaster that unfolded here 4 1/2 years ago.
It was early on Dec. 14, 2005, when a 700-foot section of the earthen dike surrounding AmerenUE's Taum Sauk upper reservoir collapsed, releasing more than a billion gallons of water. The torrent scoured the mountainside of trees, boulders and dirt and swept away the home of Johnsons Shut-Ins State Park superintendent Jerry Toops with his family asleep inside.
The family survived with minor injuries. Ameren has paid nearly $200 million under settlements with federal regulators and the state. Now, the reservoir has been replaced with a kidney-shaped 1.5 billion-gallon structure that holds water used to generate electricity at the power station a mile away. read more