Backyard Talk News Archive

Ashes to Ashes–Coal Ash = Death

coal ash ncIn North Carolina, Duke Energy is storing 130 million tons of coal ash at 32 sites at 14 power plants. The state law requires Duke to safely move all of it by 2029, and from four leaking ash ponds by 2019. Where is Duke planning to put the toxic ash?  Not surprisingly, in a low-income community of color in Lee County, NC.
Local resident Donna Bray said, “Duke is hitting the poorest rural neighborhoods, where they think people won’t be able to fight back against a big corporation. I’m worried about contamination of the vegetable garden that provides half the family’s food.
Duke might think they can dump in Lee County because it’s not seen as wealthy or powerful, but residents are getting organized. “This community is not willing to stand by and be dumped on — it’s a toxic mess, and we don’t want it,” said Therese Vick of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, which has organized hundreds of residents opposed to Duke’s plan.
The United States uses coal to generate 30 percent of its electricity. A typical power plant produces more than 125,000 tons of coal ash—the byproduct of burning coal—every year. Earthjustice estimates there are more than 1,400 coal ash sites in the United States and at least 200 of them are “known to have contaminated water sources.”
For decades, power companies dumped this toxic waste, which can contain toxic metals such as arsenic and mercury, into unlined ponds that had the potential to leak and contaminate the drinking water of nearby communities.
Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency recently announced it will scrap Obama-era rules governing coal ash disposal. The Obama administration finalized regulations in 2015 that imposed new standards on coal-ash disposal sites, in part by increasing inspections and monitoring and requiring measures such as liners in new waste pits to prevent leaks that might threaten nearby drinking water supplies.
The changes Pruitt is making would provide companies with annual compliance cost savings of up to $100 million, but environmentalists warn that doing away with the regulations risks poisoning clean drinking water for millions of Americans and pollute already-endangered ecosystems.
The changes would extend how long the over 400 coal-fired power plants across the country can maintain unlined coal ash ponds and allow states to determine how frequently they would test disposal sites for groundwater contamination.
Bottom line, energy corporations save $100 million and it place over 1.5 million children who live near coal ash disposal sites across the country, an increase risk of developing learning disabilities, asthma, cancer or born with birth defects.
If you are interested in making comments to Trump’s plan to scrap the coal ash rules click this link.


A once thriving coal town has turned toxic, and citizens are desperate for help

“West Virginia is one of the most beautiful places in the world. And people are tired of being collateral damage and they’re tired of living in a toxic waste dump,” Paula Jean Swearengin, a West Virginia native, told ThinkProgress.
“We’re just wondering if we do get on the NPL [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][National Priority List], will any of this happen fast enough to actually help the people in Minden?” Brandon Richardson of Headwaters Defense said. “If you wait 10 years to relocate people and come up with the money to do it, you may as well spend that relocation money on burial plots and tombstones because I don’t know if they’re going to have anyone to relocate.”
Read More Here[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]


After Decades Of Air Pollution, A Louisiana Town Rebels Against A Chemical Giant

“Robert Taylor isn’t sure why he’s alive.
“My mother succumbed to bone cancer. My brother had lung cancer,” he ticks them off on his fingers. “My sister, I think it was cervical cancer. My nephew lung cancer.” A favorite cousin. That cousin’s son. Both neighbors on one side, one neighbor on the other. “And here I am. I don’t understand how it decides who to take.”
For decades, Taylor and his neighbors wondered if emissions from the plant were making people in the community sick, but most people thought that challenging a chemical giant was a lost cause. The company was rich, the people were poor.

“People say, ‘What’s wrong with y’all? Ya’ll trying to fight DuPont?'” Taylor remembers. “‘Y’all crazy? You can’t win fighting DuPont!'””
Read More Here
Backyard Talk

What does Trump’s budget mean for Environmental Justice?

The Trump administration’s 2019 budget (October 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019) has serious consequences for the protection of the environment and of people. Trump’s budget plan cuts the Environmental Protection Agency’s spending by 23 percent, eliminating dozens of programs. The agency’s budget for the Office of Science and Technology is being nearly halved, while the Human Health Risk Assessment program will face reductions close to 40 percent. Other programs, such as several voluntary emissions-reductions programs and climate change research initiatives, will be eliminated.
The Superfund program, while considered to be a priority by EPA Administrator Scott Pruit, will still be subject to 25 percent cuts. Pruitt’s statement on the Superfund program emphasizes that cuts will come from administrative costs and the expedition of cleanups. The EPA’s other hazardous site restoration project, known as Brownfields, will shrink by 36 percent.
Trump’s cuts to several important EPA programs and subsequent shrinking of the agency as a whole sends a strong message about his regard for environmental health of Americans. Many environmentalists consider this move towards less health protective policies to be dangerous. The administration is instead prioritizing military and defense spending, hashing out 686 billion to the Department of Defense.
Aside from cuts, the Trump administration announced the end of the Clinton-era “once in, always in” policy on pollution. Environmental activists and lawyers are criticizing this move, warning that it could increase exposure to hazardous air pollutions, particularly among vulnerable populations. Former environmental justice head of the EPA, Mustafa Ali, said in an interview with Earther, “[The elimination of the ‘once in, always in’ policy is] really going to be killing people. You’re going to have all types of public health problems.”
These concerns being raised are valid, as the lack of funding to crucial programs mean that the most vulnerable of populations will be most affected. Considering that our president is ignoring the pressing issue of climate change, we must take matters in our own hands. More than ever, we need to work to protect our communities from the threat of pollution and toxic contamination. By supporting local groups that are putting pressure on government officials to produce life-saving policies, you can make sure that your community is safe and healthy.


Trump nominates Dow Chemicals lawyer to oversee EPA toxic waste program

“Donald Trump on Friday nominated a Dow Chemicals lawyer to head-up an Environmental Protection Agency unit that oversees hazardous waste disposal and chemical spills from toxic“Superfund” sites.
Dow Chemicals facilities are involved in dozens of Superfund projects.
Dow had accrued $219 million in accrued obligations for remediating Superfund sites, according to the company’s fourth quarter 2017 10-K filing.

Overall, Dow had accrued $1.3 billion in“probable environmental remediation and restoration costs,” according to the 10-K.”
Read More Here
Backyard Talk

Experts for the People – Shut Out by the Mass Media By Ralph Nader

Ever wonder how the television, radio and newspaper people select whom they are going to interview or get quotes from when they are reporting the news or producing a feature? I do. What I’ve learned is that they go to guests that are connected with the established powers—such as think tanks in Washington, D.C. that work on “the military industrial complex” policy (to borrow President Eisenhower’s words) and somehow lean toward more war mongering (e.g. NPR and the U.S.-Iran relationship) or backing more weapon systems (such as a new nuclear bomb arsenal and more F-35s and air craft carriers).
You won’t be hearing from MIT Professor Emeritus Ted Postol on the chronic failures of the anti-ballistic missile program (spending $13 billion this coming year).
Whether it is NPR, PBS, the network news programs, the Sunday news interview shows and too often the New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal their interviewees are the defenders of the status quo or those with corporatists’ viewpoints.
These news outlets seem oblivious to the blatant economic conflicts of interest inherent in groups such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and professors who moonlight with corporations. These interviewees have economic and ideological axes to grind that are not disclosed to the general viewers, listeners and readers, when they are merely described as “experts.”
There are real experts and specialists, with no axe to grind, who are so ignored by the media that they have almost become nonpersons, despite their past proven records of achievements for the public interest, and for the people’s well-being.
Here are some examples of experienced people whose veracity and honesty you can take to the press and media outlets:

  1. David Freeman, probably the most knowledgeable, experienced authority on energy in the United States. A lawyer and engineer, he was an advisor to Presidents, Governors, ran four major utilities, including the giant Tennessee Valley Authority. He was also the author of key studies on energy policies starting in the nineteen seventies and presently is negotiating the shutdown of California’s last atomic energy plant with its owner, Pacific Gas and Electric Corporation.
  2. Nicholas Johnson, former FCC Commissioner, author of many books and timely commentaries on communications subjects (e.g. “How to Talk Back to Your TV Set”) and has been teaching at the University of Iowa Law School.
  3. Karen Ferguson, head of Pension Rights Center since the mid-seventies, has been involved in Congressional policies, judicial decisions, organizing retirees to assert their rights and generally watchdogging the increasing pension crisis in our country.
  4. Jamie Love, the expert on drug patent abuses, drug industry pricing power, international efforts to counteract these “pay or die” policies. He has been a major figure in bringing down the price of AIDS drugs for developing countries.
  5. Rena Steinzor, law professor, author of books such as Why Not Jail?, organizer of the Center for Progressive Reform and corporate crime specialist.
  6. Janine Jackson, long-time media critic documenting weekly noteworthy bias, censorship and commercial distortion of the news.
  7. Danielle Brian, director of the Project on Government Oversight has had much to say accurately about the massive military budget, redundant weapon systems and their waste, fraud and abuse over three decades.
  8. Jesselyn Radack, former Justice Department lawyer, represents whistleblowers on national security wrongdoing and is an acknowledged legal expert on free speech in these sensitive areas.
  9. Greg LeRoy, directs Good Jobs First and knows a great deal about corporate welfare, giveaways to sports stadiums, Amazon and the whole ‘business development’ subsidies at the local and state level in the U.S. He is the author, among other publications, of The Great American Jobs Scam: Corporate Tax Dodging and the Myth of Job Creation.
  10. Mark Green, one of the nation’s experts on campaign finance rackets and reform, author of over twenty books, including Losing Our Democracy, and experienced as a candidate in New York State elections.
  11. Ralf Hotchkiss, former MacArthur Genius awardee, inventor and founder of Whirlwind Wheelchair and a successful advocate for people with disabilities having mobility without having to pay monopoly prices for shoddy wheelchairs in the U.S. and developing countries.
  12. Lois Gibbs, coming out of the Love Canal tragedies in Niagara Falls, NY, she organized arguably the leading grass roots movements against poisoning of neighborhoods around the country. She is an accomplished author, a speaker and is the director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, which works with hundreds of local citizen fighters for health and safety.

Some of the above were featured in the mass media years ago; others have been relegated to the shadows of our public news and features for almost their entire careers. The slanted selections by media gatekeepers are getting worse. Increasingly, TV and radio anchors interview their own reporters, not experts like Robert McIntyre, lawyer and founder of the highly regarded Citizens for Tax Justice. Too often the Sunday network TV political shows tap into the same stable of Washington pundits and commentators.
Readers and viewers can make their own lists of media-excluded, knowledgeable persons, be they at the local, state or national levels. On our public airwaves, after the FCC repealed the “Fairness Doctrine” in 1987, bloviators such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, completely dominate our airtime with their corporatist and hate-filled soliloquies. These “champions” of the free market have no problem using the public airwaves free of charge. As owners of the public airwaves and buyers of print journalism, let’s demand higher standards for experts in journalism. Let’s demand that the media seek out people who know their facts and work in the people’s interest and give them airtime.