Clean coal strikes again. The new year started off on a bad foot for the coal industry in the United States. In January, a chemical leak left 300,000 people without water to drink in West Virginia. Freedom Industries, Inc. leaked 10,000 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) into the Elk River near Charleston. The chemical is used to wash coal before it goes to market to reduce ash.
Even after some plant officials deemed the water safe to drink, locals were skeptical. Why? MCHM has a tell tale licorice smell, still detectable after the all-clear. Adding to the confusion were statements from other officials that there was not a concrete safety level to test for the chemical. On Feb. 21, The Wall Street Journal reported that Freedom Industries had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a result of receiving almost 20 lawsuits from private citizens and businesses claiming damages.
Another spill occurred on Feb. In Eden, N.C., the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history was unleashed from the Duke Energy plant into the Dan River. The Charlotte Observer reported that 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash was released. Duke has 14 ash sites in North Carolina. This horrific event has finally captured the attention of Federal authorities, who have launched a criminal investigation of both Duke and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Retired DENR Assistant Secretary for the Environment, Robin Smith, stated, “There are thousands of sites with contaminated groundwater in the state.” The cost of cleanup of the spill is estimated to be at least $70 million.
Then there is the coal slurry spill in eastern Kanawha County, West Virginia on Feb. 11. Patriot’s Coal Kanawha Eagle Preparation Plant spilled an estimated 108,000 gallons of coal slurry into Field’s Creek when a valve in a slurry line malfunctioned. Six miles of the creek’s water was turned black by the slurry. There is an on-going investigation by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The investigation stems from questions surrounding the time line between the spill and when officials were notified. Enforcement action against the company is pending.
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In only two months, three serious incidents have occurred regarding the coal industry in states close to our own. How many more will the American people, and our environments, have to suffer? Our state and federal government agencies must take coal ash regulation and monitoring much more seriously than they now practice. in addition, the time has come to move away from heavy reliance on fossil fuels and pursue more eco-friendly sources of energy, such as solar power.
Our state is a prime candidate for this industry, which would also provide much needed employment opportunities. Why are we missing out? More industry in our state doesn’t just mean more jobs, but also more tax revenue in the state’s coffers for services such as education and road repair. It seems the time has come for our state representatives to see the light
The writer lives in Conway