July 21, 2010

Consumers Energy Hides Coal Ash Leaks, Puts People at Risk

July 21, 2010

FOIA request shows Consumers Energy violated state rules

BAY CITY – A controversial Bay City coal plant violated state law when it failed to monitor hazardous coal ash at its two landfills in the Saginaw-Bay area and report leaks that potentially endangered people, the citizens group Lone Tree Council said today.
The coal ash landfills belong to Consumers Energy, which operates the Karn-Weadock facility near Bay City. Coal ash leachate containing arsenic, boron, lithium and sulfate – all toxic chemicals linked to serious illnesses –have been previously discharged into Saginaw Bay from the sites.

“Consumers Energy’s coal ash cover-up only puts local families at greater risk, highlighting the fact that Michigan must slam the brakes on coal and turn to more clean energy,” Lone Tree Council President Terry Miller said. “Coal is killing Michigan jobs and coal ash is poisoning our water, land and air. Michigan must invest in more clean energy and energy efficiency now to protect our families, end our dangerous dependence on coal and create good-paying jobs for our working families.”

The Lone Tree Council obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) showing that Consumers Energy received a notice of violation July 1, 2010. The notice from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Energy read, in part: “Unfortunately, the inaction by Consumers Energy to notify the Department of sampling challenges, and lack of first quarter sampling, and lack of monitoring of potentiometric levels, are all violations of each landfill’s approved HMP and operating license.” (Emphasis is in the original DNRE letter)

According to the DNRE, Consumers Energy’s Karn-Weadock complex failed its first quarter 2010 reporting requirements to monitor discharges from its toxic ash landfills. Consumers Energy had reached agreement with the state to monitor locations where groundwater from the ash landfills mixes with water in Saginaw Bay. Consumers Energy failed to comply with its hydrogeological monitoring plan, which is part of its operating license. Consumers Energy was also cited for failure to notify the DNRE that it couldn’t meet its requirements.

Consumers Energy has two landfills on Saginaw Bay: a 292-acre site and a 172-acre site. These landfills contain bottom ash and fly ash from decades of coal burning on the mouth of the Saginaw River. The ash was converted to slurry and piped to the landfills. Historically the landfills were unlined and the utility failed to create a barrier between bay water and groundwater from the sites. The utility received several variances to allow creation of these landfills in coastal marshes and state bottom lands. Testing ordered by the state in 2002 showed levels of arsenic that exceeded water quality levels leaching from the landfills into the bay, as well as other contaminants. The utility has since negotiated a response that included a barrier at the Weadock site and additional monitoring. A barrier at the Karn landfill is presently being explored by the company and the state.

“We applaud the DNRE for holding Consumers Energy accountable,” Miller said. “We cannot allow Consumers Energy to brazenly sweep its toxic coal ash problems under the rug.”

The notice of violation comes on the heels of national pressure to put coal ash residues under federal law as hazardous waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recently issued two approaches: one would regulate coal ash as toxic waste and another would essentially leave the level of regulation up to individual states. The EPA is conducting hearings in locations around the country as well as taking comments.

July 7, 2010

Sierra Club Applauds MPSC Staff Finding No Need for Holland Coal Plant Expansion

 July 7, 2010

Alternative sources including efficiency and purchased power would meet
 electric needs cheaper than coal plant expansion proposal

Sierra Club volunteer and Holland area resident Jill Henke says “we really don’t need another polluting#coal plant in this area,” so she was thrilled to hear that the Michigan Public Service Commission staff#agrees with her. Jill has been actively involved in the fight for clean energy options and to stop the#Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW) proposed expansion of the existing James DeYoung coal-fired#power plant in Holland over the past couple of years.

On July 7, the MPSC staff issued its findings that HBPW did not make the case that this plant was#needed, and that the municipal utility failed to adequately consider alternatives, was overly optimistic#about growth in demand, and is proposing the coal plant expansion even though it will cost Holland#residents and ratepayers more than other options. The MPSC staff report was prepared for the#Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) based on the HBPW Electric Generation#Alternatives Analysis (EGAA) and wide ranging public input and comment. The MPSC staff report is#considered by the DNRE as part of its review of the proposed air pollution permit to install HBPW is#seeking for its proposed coal plant expansion.

Governor Jennifer Granholm issued an Executive Directive in early 2009 requiring that DNRE consider#the need the proposed power and the availability of alternatives to meet that need before issuing air#pollution permits for proposed coal plants. DNRE denied a permit application by Wolverine Power Supply#Cooperative this May, but issued a permit in December to CMS for a proposed plant. CMS in May put that#proposed coal plant expansion near Bay City on hold after also concluding that it did not make sense to#proceed with their plant proposal at this time. Timing for the DNRE decision on the HBPW permit is not#known, but could take several more months and involves review of thousands of individual comments and#technical and legal input on pollution issues as well as need and alternatives.

“ I really praise the Public Service Commission staff for their findings,” said Jan O’Connell, Sierra Club#Michigan Beyond Coal Campaign organizer. “There’s been a growing concern in the Holland community#about coal. This is really a great opportunity for the Holland Board of Public Works to go back to the#drawing board and get it right.”