Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Alabama Power's Barry Plant and toxic coal-ash pond near Mobile draw scrutiny from CNN and EPA, as heat rises on CEO Mark Crosswhite and Balch & Bingham

Alabama Power's Plant Barry and coal-ash pond

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is investigating Alabama Power, focusing on the company's Barry Plant and toxic ash pond near Mobile. From a post at banbalch.com, based on original reporting from CNN:

Posted [Sunday], CNN’s bombshell visual and interactive story on polluting ash ponds outlines potential environmental disasters and the “money-making” schemes surrounding those foolish decisions.

Alabama Power’s Barry Plant and toxic ash pond near Mobile, Alabama, is a central figure of the investigative story and highlights the controversy surrounding the future of these contaminated ash ponds.

But the real explosive grenade was confirmation that the EPA is probing Alabama Power. CNN reports:

While state regulators approved Alabama Power’s plans for the Barry pond in July, EPA Administrator Regan told CNN last month that his agency is “actively investigating (…) the Plant Barry situation.”

“We understand the concerns about this facility in Alabama,” Regan said. “The last administration’s leadership failed to act on these concerns. This administration will act to protect communities and, based on my prior experience, if there is coal ash in contact with groundwater, that’s putting the health and safety of communities at risk and requires our attention.

Regan and the EPA could now expand the investigation and probe Alabama Power’s ash pond at Miller Steam Plant in Jefferson County and alleged secret indemnity deals, known as the Crosswhite Scandal.

The Crosswhite Scandal, of course, refers to Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite and his cozy relationship with the Balch & Bingham law firm. Writes banbalch.com Publisher K.B. Forbes:

The Crosswhite Scandal involves indemnity deals allegedly paid through third-party entities, like embattled law firm Balch & Bingham, to cover up alleged unsavory and criminal misconduct.

Mark A. Crosswhite, CEO of Alabama Power, a former Balch partner, is under fire for his alleged failed leadership at the utility.

Unsubstantiated rumors claim that Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning is retiring next year and that Crosswhite has allegedly told insiders he’s next in line at the C-Suite in Atlanta.

Crosswhite was infamously photographed chugging cocktails with disgraced now ex-U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town who insidiously claimed the North Birmingham Bribery Scandal involved two lone wolves, an assessment no one believed, not even federal investigators.


Anonymous said...

"America's Amazon" is in Alabama? Who knew?

legalschnauzer said...

The Alabama Legislature apparently didn't know -- or didn't care.

Anonymous said...

Alabama power leases to aot of small municipalities who claim to"own" their power distribution. Balch is employed by most said municipalities to handle/bully anyone who complains. There's more details...I can't find your email to send more details. But both have a large dominance. I don't see how it can ever be contained.

Anonymous said...

CNN quotes a guy who says utilities almost always take the cheapest option available for cleanups. Big surprise.

legalschnauzer said...

What is coal ash? Here is how CNN describes it:

Coal ash, an umbrella term for the residue that’s left over when utilities burn coal, is one of the United States’ largest kinds of industrial waste. It contains metals — such as lead, mercury, chromium, selenium, cadmium and arsenic — that never biodegrade. Studies have shown these contaminants are dangerous to humans and have linked some to cancer, lung disease and birth defects. . . .

Before the 1970s, many utilities pumped their coal ash into the atmosphere, attorney Lisa Evans, who has focused on coal ash litigation for more than 20 years, said. After Congress passed the Clean Air Act of 1970, which regulated power plants’ air emissions, some facilities began storing their coal ash in dirt ditches, commonly known today as ash ponds or surface impoundments.

legalschnauzer said...

What is this area like in south Alabama? From CNN:

The Mobile–Tensaw Delta [is] one of the most biodiverse areas of the United States, with flora and fauna not known to exist anywhere else on Earth. Environmentalists, community members and scientists fear the pond could someday unleash a Kingston-like catastrophe on southern Alabama and say leaving the coal ash in the delta is shortsighted and dangerous.

“We’ve got an A-bomb up the river,” John Howard, who lives in Mobile County and said he has been fishing in southern Alabama for decades, said. “It’s just waiting to happen.”

legalschnauzer said...

Here is more on the Alabama delta:

The Mobile–Tensaw Delta is part of the Mobile River Basin, which drains most of Alabama’s water through the delta, the Mobile Bay and into the Gulf of Mexico. It is one of the largest and most biodiverse river systems in North America; the region is home to at least 35 kinds of orchids and likely more turtle species than any other river system on Earth. At least 30 types of carnivorous plants live in the delta. Raines, who has often referred to the delta as “America’s Amazon,” points out one that eats insects.

legalschnauzer said...

Here is some history behind the Alabama delta:

Alabama’s ecosystems are particularly diverse because glaciers never covered the state during Earth’s last ice age, unlike large swaths of what is now North America.

The delta is where Alabama Power’s James M. Barry Electric Generating Plant’s smokestacks tower above the treeline. Many refer to the plant, named for the executive who led the utility from 1949 to 1952, as simply “Barry” or “Plant Barry.” It’s about 25 miles north of downtown Mobile, sits on the Mobile River and forms a corridor of industrial facilities. At 597 acres, Barry’s ash pond is nearly as large as the National Mall. A grassy berm, dotted with yellow flowers, lines the property’s edge and separates 21.7 million cubic yards of coal ash from the river.

legalschnauzer said...

How does climate change fit into the equation?

There is some evidence that more storms are reaching a higher intensity, although there’s some indication that the frequency of storms may be going down, Michael Bell, an atmospheric science professor at Colorado State University, said. In 2020, for example, researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and NOAA looked at nearly 40 years of data and found the probability of storms reaching major hurricane status — Category 3 or higher — increased decade after decade.

Sean Powers, a marine scientist and professor at the University of South Alabama, said changing weather patterns are his biggest concern about the Barry ash pond.

“Everything now is based on our understanding of the risk that exists now,” Powers said.

“Obviously, sea level will rise,” he said. “Storms will increase, at least in intensity if not frequency, and all of those pose serious risk for the release of that material.”

legalschnauzer said...

The bottom line: The delta is a real bad location for storage of toxic waste:

While environmentalists keep an eye out for the next Ida, some scientists say a less visible and more insidious crisis is already underway.

“Eventually, (a disaster) is going to happen,” geologist Mark Hutson, whom the SELC hired to review Alabama Power’s closure plan for the Barry pond last year, said. “In the meantime, there will be decades of slow release of metals into the swampy areas.”

In his report for the SELC, Hutson concluded that to effectively close any coal ash storage site, the waste must be permanently isolated from water, including groundwater, and that the Barry pond’s location — on a meandering river system’s floodplain — was an unsuitable place to permanently store waste.

“No (new) waste disposal facility,” he determined, “would be permitted in this physical location.”

legalschnauzer said...

@11:32 --

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