Jan 2 2009
09:08 am

As more facts emerge regarding the impact of the Swan Pond disaster, it’s becoming clear that the cleanup will take years and cost millions upon millions of dollars. The rivers will eventually heal themselves, but the homes, farms, and land will forever have a big question mark hanging over them.

This catastrophe illustrates just how dirty coal is, from mining it, to storing the waste from mining it, to burning it, to storing the waste from burning it. It’s nasty business from start to finish.

Meanwhile, the coal industry is running a massive PR campaign for "Clean Coal." Even some otherwise environmentally conscious Democrats such as President-elect Barack Obama have been fooled by the propaganda and are on board with the program.

There’s no such thing as clean coal. Just ask the folks up in Roane County. The toxic constituents of coal are already sequestered underground. Once it’s mined and burned, all of it is released into the environment. Even the best available technology can only recapture so much of it and the byproducts still have to be stored somewhere, such as fly ash settling ponds. The rest goes out the smokestacks and into the atmosphere.

But guess what? There’s a lot of coal in the ground and it’s worth a lot of money, so we will continue to extract it and burn it. There is nothing anyone can do to stop it. The coal business, of which TVA is a part, is too big and too powerful, and the media has had their back in helping shape public perception.

(The media gets some credit for getting untethered from the big coal/TVA PR machine over the past few days, but it’s pretty hard to keep lying about things people can clearly see with their own eyes.)

It’s a sad state of affairs that we are well into the 21st century and still using such primitive means to generate power and manage the waste byproducts. Environmentalists have been warning us for decades that this is not sustainable. But we’re not doing anything except talking about it.

So it will go on, and the end result will be more Swan Ponds and Buffalo Creeks and Crandall Canyons. Survivors and relatives of the dead will be paid off, families will be relocated and their homes will be razed, leaving uninhabitable pockets of environmental moonscapes dotted across the land and miners forever entombed underground.

But we’re OK with that, because we need the cheap TVA coal power and the jobs and economic prosperity it brings. The captains of industry have decided that the benefits outweigh the social, economic, and environmental costs, and that’s all you need to know about it.

We’ll watch the situation unfold, review the conflicting test results, listen to the press conferences and the Congressional hearings, and then it will be back to business as usual. Except for the residents of Swan Pond, who are soon-to-be-forgotten collateral damage written off the balance sheet of big coal.

OK, then.

bizgrrl's picture

then it will be back to

then it will be back to business as usual. Except for the residents of Swan Pond, who are soon-to-be-forgotten collateral damage written off the balance sheet of big coal.

Sad, but true.

Tess's picture

Thank you!

Randy, you are so right. Thank you for your discussion about this disaster and keeping the pressure on TVA to do the right thing in Swan Pond and Roane County.

sugarfatpie's picture

Agreed, until we get some clean wind and solar...

Until we wake up and taste the arsenic, we are screwed.
Time to put the pressure on Barack to ditch coal, ethanol, and truly embrace wind solar and the other truly clean renewables.

-Sugarfatpie (AKA Alex Pulsipher)

"X-Rays are a hoax."-Lord Kelvin

Brian A.'s picture

Agree with Tess

Thanks for not glossing over this catastrophe or excepting the media spin.

Unfortunately, in the Tennessee Valley we don't have practical alternatives other than nuclear and hydro. But other parts of the country should more aggressively be developing solar and wind power.

Brian A.
I'd rather be cycling.

sugarfatpie's picture

solar could work fine here

so could low velocity wind

-Sugarfatpie (AKA Alex Pulsipher)

"X-Rays are a hoax."-Lord Kelvin

Factchecker's picture

2GW solar in 6 yrs vs. 1.2GW new nuke in ??? yrs

I share the cynicism here. But it doesn't have to be this way. Spain is building a 20MW concentrated solar power (CSP) system now and will be expanding it to 300MW by 2013.

That country is also said to be on track to generate >2GW of its power by 2015, including baseload power meaning that enough heat is stored to continue generating power around the clock.

By contrast, TVA is trying to finish Watts Bar Unit 2, which would add about 1.2GW of power. Nuclear is far better than coal IF it's well built. But could WB2 possibly be finished by the time Spain plans to be getting 2GW totally clean and renewable energy from the sun? That's only six years from now.

Where will TVA be in 2015? Why don't we get a voice? Better accountablity would help. See Jack Neely's excellent recent (and prescient) MP article on those problems.

lifeonswanpond's picture

Surviving on Swan Pond after TVA

Please remember that a whole community was affected - People's lives -

Our lives have changed, and will never be the same.

Yes, TVA needs to change things, find alternative sources for power, clean up the mess and accept responsibility, but don't forget us, the residents.

More than just 15 homes were destroyed, MORE than just 40 families were affected....

Where are our community leaders? Roane County?

Where is the assistance from our local Health Department? Don't they know that this is a disaster? People's health has been affected?

Where is the LOCAL Press????

Where is the outpouring of support from people in Harriman & Kingston? Have you forgotten us?

Everyone wanted to see the disaster... instead of driving around on our property could you have perhaps knocked on the door to see if we were alright? Needed help? Even just to say that you were concerned... or cared about your neighbors?

There are still human needs that need to be met, and it's not happening. A phone call... someone to talk to, a day out in "clean" air and away from the grime and debris, a gift card for items in need, a hot meal for those that have been displaced.

Help begins at home... help us rebuild our lives even if we can't rebuild our homes.

And please, pray for us.

WhitesCreek's picture

Register and send me a private message

We'll get you contacted. What was the result when you called any of the numbers that have been set up for you?

For health concerns related to the coal fly ash release in Harriman, a hotline has been established for the public: 800-404-3006 for the Tennessee Department of Health

Roane County has other contacts and info here

There have been volunteers knocking on doors every day since the spill. Sorry we missed you, but for a while we were kept out by deputies. That changed after we discussed it with TVA and Swan Pond Circle was opened up except for the area very close to the spill.


(update: We missed you because you are staying at a motel at TVA expense. I don't know how badly your home was affected but TVA is actively looking for more permanent accomodations for some folks. I hope it works out for you)

lifeonswanpond's picture

gee... does everyone know where I am?

We didn't get relocated until new years eve, after a visit to the ER. I have no choice to stay at the hotel at TVA's expense... (is this a bad thing?) Recommendations from Children's Hospital regarding the respiratory issues that my grandson is having prevents us from going home, as it is related to the fly ash.

Thank you for the contact numbers.
There was no information that anyone was coming around (except TVA and it took a week) and where we are some people don't realize that we are there.

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