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When is hazardous coal ash not considered hazardous? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, when you dump it in a landfill as opposed to a pond. This approach is currently being floated by the EPA in its plans to regulate coal ash later this year. Coal ash—the waste left over after coal is burned at coal-fired power plants—is full of dangerously high levels of arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium and other hazardous metals. Cancer rates skyrocket near coal ash dumps that have leaked into drinking water supplies.

The halls of Congress are echoing this week with debate over proposed legislation to fight global warming—a fight that can't be won without addressing a primary cause of global warming: our dependence on coal. As the rumpus goes on there, a real-life battle between coal and the future of American energy has reached a pivotal moment in Appalachia.

A heartening sight in my old Peace Corps village (in Turkey) was all the solar water heaters on top of the houses. It only makes sense, but then sensible things don't always prevail. Fritz Schumacher, coiner of the term 'appropriate technology' would be proud.

Less attractive was a trip up to the yayla—high-mountain pasture—where the villagers take their livestock to graze in the summer months. When I lived here and heard about the yayla I pictured the Sound of Music—lush green alpine meadows, leiderhosen and all that—but these pastures have been badly overgrazed and signs of erosion are everywhere. It's still wild and beautiful this time of year with most of the koyun (sheep) and inek (cattle) gone, but not the paradise I had thought.

Finally, on the way to an old abandoned monastery, we passed the site of a brand-new hydroelectric dam that will wipe out miles of trout streams, several houses, even a mosque. Think about that for a minute.

Earthjustice has begun tracking the Obama administration's progress in rolling back eight years of environmental assault by the Bush administration. We've created a chart that grades President Barack Obama on how well he's done. After reading the chart, come back to this blog post and provide your own comments. We'll be updating the report card as actions warrant.

 

President Barack Obama handed out a passel of money today for "smart grid" projects, much of it going towards house electrical meters that can be controlled by power companies. The meters allow companies to manipulate how much electricity each house uses at any given time -- useful in times of power shortages and for being able to shift power from where it's least needed to where it's most needed.

Two years after Earthjustice successfully fought Florida Power and Light's plan to build the nation's largest coal plant near Everglades National Park, the state is taking a giant leap forward toward clean energy.

Today, President Barack Obama is touring FPL's new DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Arcadia —the largest photovoltaic facility in the U.S.

"Instead of having a dirty coal plant to provide power, we have clean solar energy," said David Guest, managing attorney for Earthjustice in Florida. "It is gratifying to know that Earthjustice helped change public policy and moved our state to more common-sense technology. We are finally putting the sunshine back in the Sunshine State."

In June 2007, Earthjustice gathered evidence and experts which helped convince the Florida Public Service Commission to consider the full costs associated with polluting coal plants. It was the first time that global warming played a role in a PSC decision, and the first time in 15 years that state regulators rejected a new power plant.

At 25 megawatts, it will generate nearly twice as much energy as the second-largest photovoltaic facility in the U.S.—Nevada's Nellis Solar Power Plant.
 

The Obama magic is everywhere. The other day in the Covered Bazaar a natty gentleman of a certain age dragged us into his back room to show off a photograph of himself and Laura Bush, who had visited the market on some no-doubt well orchestrated tour when W was hanging with his G-8 buddies or someone.

I said that Laura was OK, her husband not so much, and the old dude agreed. Bush NO! O-Ba-Ma YES! Seems to be universal. . .They've just banned smoking in public places in Turkey, and it seems to be working fine. This in a country where cigarette smoking was virtually universal. I've heard grumbling in a restaurant or two, but no outright defiance so far. . .I'm off to the eastern Black Sea this afternoon to visit a village I lived in in the '60s as a Peace Corps volunteer. We'll see how the ban is playing there. . .Finally, virtually the only cars you see here are compact taxis, which may be the result of gas that costs more than 12 dollars a gallon. At that there are too many cars, but if gas were as cheap as it is in the U.S. I'd hate to think.

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About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.