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Allison Kilkenny

Allison Kilkenny

Posted: June 12, 2009 11:26 AM

We Are Here For Your Protection


Once again, the government is suppressing information in the name of homeland security.

Just how bad has the coal ash situation gotten in the United States? So bad that the Department of Homeland Security has told Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) that her committee can't publicly disclose the location of coal ash dumps across the country.

The pollution is so toxic, so dangerous, that an enemy of the United States -- or a storm or some other disrupting event -- could easily cause them to spill out and lay waste to any area nearby.

Here is another example of the government concealing information in the name of "protecting" the American population. First, President Obama channelled the Bush administration in his decision to use the state-secrets doctrine to prevent the release of photos that documented detainee abuse. Of course, this was done in the name of "keeping us safe." Now, the Department of Homeland Security needs to suppress the location of coal ash dumps because some very environmentally-aware terrorist is going to run out to the sites armed with a shovel and map of US water purification plants.

Saying something is for the "protection" of the American people is usually code for "covering our own asses." The recent coal ash spill in Tennessee was 100 times worse than the Exxon-Valdez spill and will cost a billion dollars to clean up, according to Senator Barbara Boxer. That spill occurred at the Kingston Fossil Plant, a Tennessee Valley Authority generating plant about 40 miles west of Knoxville that rests on the banks of the Emory River, which feeds into the Clinch River, and then the Tennessee River downstream.

What caused the Tennessee spill wasn't a holy war declared by Al-Qaeda. It was a colossal fuck-up on the part of the federally-owned Kingston Fossil Plant that resulted in the collapse of an earthen retaining wall and 1.7 million cubic yards of wet coal burying more than 3,000 acres under one foot of toxic sludge. It wasn't terrorism, but rather lax regulations, that resulted in this environmental tragedy.

Post-spill, the Tennessee Valley Authority didn't issue a warning to the state's residents even though the Environmental Protection Agency issued a report last year saying "fly ash," a byproduct of the burning of coal to produce electricity, contains significant amounts of carcinogens. As far back as 2000, the EPA proposed stricter federal controls of coal ash, but backed away when faced with "fierce opposition from utilities, the coal industry, and Clinton administration officials."

In addition to having discussed the issue of controlling coal ash sites as far back as the dawn of the new millennium, Tennessee officials had also been warned about problems at the Kingston Fossil Plant itself. According to The Tennessean, the plant's neighbors had reported previous "baby blowouts" that caused less severe contamination. And environmentalists have been arguing for years that coal ash should be stored in lined landfills.

Of course, it's easier to just hide the maps of coal contamination sites than create stricter regulation guidelines. After seeing just how badly coal sites are polluting their environment, Big Coal may have a significantly harder time getting Americans to swallow that whole "clean coal" myth. And there's no need to piss off the industry that donated almost $3.5 million to Democrats and Republicans in 2008 when the government can just suppress information in the name of homeland security.

After all, they're here for our protection.

Cross-posted from Allison Kilkenny's blog. Also available on Facebook and Twitter.