Alabama and coal
- 1 Introduction
- 2 History
- 3 Legislative issues
- 4 Coal waste
- 5 TVA shipping coal ash from Tennessee disaster to Georgia and Alabama
- 6 Public nuisance suit North Carolina v. TVA
- 7 Citizen activism
- 8 Coal lobbying groups
- 9 Coal power companies
- 10 Proposed coal plants
- 11 Largest coal plants
- 12 Existing coal plants
- 13 Proposed Plant Retirements
- 14 Birmingham and Asthma
- 15 Major coal mines
- 16 Coal Exports and Imports
- 17 Carbon Capture and Storage in Alabama
- 18 Citizen groups
- 19 Resources
Alabama coal mines produced 18.8 million tons of coal in 2006 (1.6% of the U.S. total), making Alabama the 15th-biggest coal-producing state in the country. Alabama employed 4,195 coal miners in 2006, of whom 61% were unionized.
Alabama had 45 coal-fired generating stations in 2005, with 12,684 MW of capacity - representing 38.2% of the state's total electric generating capacity, and making Alabama the 11th biggest coal energy producing state in the U.S. In 2006, Alabama's coal-fired power plants produced 80 million tons of CO2, 450,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 110,000 tons of nitrogen oxide; coal-fired power plants were responsible for 59% of the state's total CO2 emissions. In 2005, Alabama emitted 29.8 tons of CO2 per person, 50% more than the U.S. average.
In May 2010 the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report titled, Burning Coal, Burning Cash: Ranking the States that Import the Most Coal. In the paper the group reported that Alabama was the sixth most coal dependent state in the country, spending $1.4 billion on coal imports in 2008.
Coal mining began in Alabama in the early 1830's, and large-scale mining began with the opening of the Montevallo mine in 1856. With the growth of industry in Alabama - as well as in the Northeast - the state's coal mining industry boomed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; annual coal production hit 5 million tons in the early 1890's, and peaked at 21 million tons in 1926. With this economic success came great human cost: 870 Alabama coal miners were killed in mining disasters between 1890 and 1930. (The most deadly coal mining disaster in the past 20 years was at the Jim Walter Resources mine in Brookwood, Alabama, where 13 miners died in an explosion in Sept. 2001.)
While slavery was officially abolished in Alabama in 1865, many people convicted of "vagrancy" or "loitering" were imprisoned and leased by state prisons to private coal mining companies; 83-90% of these convict miners were black, and they worked under horrendous conditions. Between 1880 and 1904, nearly 10% of Alabama's state revenues came from leasing prisoners to private coal companies. These "slave mines" were not shut down until 1928, after the torture and murder of a black convict miner for failing to meet his daily quota created a public scandal. However, many free coal miners were black as well - in 1930, 53% of Alabama's coal miners were black, and black miners were typically treated very poorly by management.
Beginning in the 1890's, Alabama coal miners - both black and white - began to organize and strike against the state's horrendous coal mining work conditions. Smaller strikes in 1894, 1904, and 1908 were followed by a six-month strike by 11,000 coal miners between 1920 and 1921 (some of the UMW's leaders during this strike were blacks), which was only broken when the National Guard killed 16 miners. However, unionization was much more successful in the 1930's, when the Great Depression and labor rights legislation made organizing significantly easier and less dangerous.
With the decline of railroads after World War II, Alabama's coal mining industry declined as well; production bottomed out at 10 million tons in 1954. In subsequent decades, however, coal production was revitalized, first by iron and steel production, and then by the coal power industry. Alabama's coal production hit 15 million tons in the late 1960's, and peaked at 29 million tons in 1990. In subsequent decades, competition from low-sulfur mines in Wyoming and Montana has caused Alabama's coal industry to decline once again; production declined to 18.8 million tons by 2006.
The coal power industry is historically very strong in Alabama, ever since the Tennessee Valley Authority built coal-fired power plants in Alabama on an unprecedented scale in the 1950's and 60's. In subsequent decades, the state's coal power industry continued to grow: 46% of the state's coal power capacity has been built since 1970. However, no new coal power plants have been built in Alabama since 1991, and there are currently no new proposals for coal power plants.
October 2010: EPA challenges AL's enforcement of Clean Water Act
In October 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) threatened to take over enforcing part of the Clean Water Act if the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) didn't hold cities to higher standards for keeping waterways clean. The warning from the EPA, which specifically applies to storm sewer pollution control in small cities, is one of several steps the agency has taken recently focusing on Alabama's program for protecting water quality. The EPA has issued a series of audits critical of how local governments, under ADEM's watch, have been carrying out their obligations to control sediment and other pollutants that run into creeks and streams during rain storms. Sedimentation, caused by muddy runoff and by the rush of water flowing off paved surfaces, is considered a principal source of harm to rivers such as the Cahaba. It makes the river inhospitable to aquatic life, makes it harder to treat for drinking water, and increases the potential for flooding as the river channel fills in. The federal agency also has been reviewing ADEM's standards for coal strip-mine discharge permits, slowing the issuing new permits.
In its formal objections to ADEM's proposed storm water permits for small cities, the EPA objected to a provision that would allow cities to rely on ADEM's enforcement and inspection program, a provision pushed for by business groups. The EPA noted that ADEM does not review site plans when issuing storm water permits, and has historically inspected only 10 percent to 15 percent of its active construction sites annually. At that rate, most construction sites within any city would never be reviewed nor inspected, the EPA wrote. According to ADEM, the agency has 29 employees tasked with inspecting and enforcing violations at the state's 7,523 actively-permitted construction sites.
The EPA also is considering a petition filed earlier in 2010 by environmental groups that asks that all of ADEM's authority to administer federal clean water law be revoked, which would lead to the federal agency taking oversight of all water pollution enforcement in the state. The EPA's formal objection to ADEM's proposed storm water permits, which could trigger a federal takeover, is believed to be the first time the EPA has taken that step.
Proposed Coal Ash Regulation
On March 4, 2010 the Alabama House introduced a bill that would allow Perry County, Alabama to levy a $5 per ton fee on coal ash disposed at a privately owned landfill in the city of Uniontown. Alabama Rep. Ralph Howard of Greensboro, Alabama introduced the bill. Currently the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is shipping coal sludge that breached the Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee. TVA anticipates that it will ship approximately 3 million cubic feet of coal and ash to the landfill before the clean-up is completed.
Democratic Rep. Ralph Howard said revenue from the fee would be split evenly between the cities of Uniontown and Marion. Howard estimated the fee could raise as much as $15 million. If the legislation passes voters would have to approve the measure in their November 2010 election.
February 2010: AL lawsuit against EPA for proposed CO2 regulation
In February 2010, Alabama, along with Texas and Virginia, sued the EPA for declaring carbon dioxide an endangerment to human health, giving the agency the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. The states were joined in March 2010 by 12 other states. The EPA is set to issue regulations that would require autos and light trucks to increase energy efficiency, which would trigger rules on large emitters like power plants requiring them to get permits showing they are using the best technology available to reduce emissions.
The 2011 report, "State of Failure: How States Fail to Protect Our Health and Drinking Water from Toxic Coal Ash" by Earthjustice and Appalachian Mountain Advocates, looked at EPA data and found that state regulations are often inadequate for protecting public health. Alabama coal ash ponds are completely unregulated at the state level, yet more than 5 million tons of ash from the Kingston TVA spill were shipped in for disposal.
Toxic hexavalent chromium found at Alabama coal plant sites
A report released by EarthJustice and the Sierra Club in early February 2011 stated that there are many health threats associated with a toxic cancer-causing chemical found in coal ash waste called hexavalent chromium. The report specifically cited 29 sites in 17 states where the contamination was found. The information was gathered from existing EPA data on coal ash and included locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virgina and Wisconsin. In Alabama, the TVA Colbert Fossil Plant in Tuscambia and the TVA Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Stevenson were both reported as having high levels of chromium seeping from unlined retention ponds.
According to the report, the electric power industry is the leading source of chromium and chromium compounds released into the environment, representing 24 percent of releases by all industries in 2009.
As a press release about the report read:
- Hexavalent chromium first made headlines after Erin Brockovich sued Pacific Gas & Electric because of poisoned drinking water from hexavalent chromium. Now new information indicates that the chemical has readily leaked from coal ash sites across the U.S. This is likely the tip of the iceberg because most coal ash dump sites are not adequately monitored.
Coal waste spill at North River
Water samples taken in North River where coal slurry spilled in July 2011 show elevated levels of lead and arsenic. State officials said the amounts were below levels that would pose a danger to the area’s drinking water, but did exceed levels considered toxic to aquatic life if exposed over long periods of time.
The coal slurry, a waste byproduct from coal mining, overflowed from an abandoned area of an underground coal mine in southern Fayette County where Jim Walter Resources was legally pumping the watery sediment. Pumping equipment malfunctioned, causing the slurry to spill into an unnamed creek and eventually Freeman Creek, a tributary of North River. North River flows into Lake Tuscaloosa, which provides drinking water for the city of Tuscaloosa.
On January 9, 2009, Tennessee Valley Authority confirmed another coal waste spill at its Widows Creek plant in northeast Alabama, less than three weeks after the enormous Tennessee coal ash spill at TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant. The spill, which TVA said originated from a gypsum treatment operation, released about 10,000 gallons of toxic gypsum material, some of which spilled into Widows Creek and the nearby Tennessee River.
Gypsum ponds contain limestone spray from smokestack scrubbers, which trap sulfur dioxide emissions before they are released into the air and turn them into sludge and solid waste. According to a TVA statement, the spill occurred at 6 AM when a cap dislodged from a 30-inch standpipe, releasing material from the gypsum pond into a settling pond, which then reached capacity and overflowed.
Scott Hughes, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, said the spill was a one-time event, and that no additional gypsum material was being released. While the city of Scottsboro, about 15 miles downstream from the plant, gets its drinking water from the Tennessee River, Hughes said there had not been enough time for any contamination to reach the community. The agency sent a crew to the scene to monitor Widows Creek for effects on aquatic organisms. As of noon on January 9th, there was no evidence of any such impact.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, who is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, immediately called for a full review of all TVA's waste disposal sites.
Alabama highest in coal ash toxic metals storage
According to a 2011 analysis of data in the U.S. EPA's Toxic Release Inventory, the Environmental Integrity Project found that Alabama's coal-fired power plants dispose of almost 15 million pounds of toxic metals in on-site ash ponds, more than plants in any other state. Alabama Power's Miller Steam Plant in western Jefferson County, Alabama, sends more toxic metals to its ash pond than any other plant in the country -- more than 5 million pounds annually.
TVA shipping coal ash from Tennessee disaster to Georgia and Alabama
In a test case, some of the coal ash waste that spilled in TVA's Kingston plant disaster is being sent to Georgia and Alabama. TVA is loading it onto rail cars, where the company says it will be "safely contained."
In Alabama, wet TVA coal ash is being sent to the Arrowhead Landfill in Perry County, despite concerns about arsenic and other pollutants that were reported to the EPA. In 2012, the EPA's Office of Civil Rights agreed to investigate a complaint filed by nearby residents alleging that Alabama environmental regulators violated the civil rights of residents -- predominantly black and among the poorest in the state -- by renewing and modifying the permit issued to operators of the Arrowhead landfill in 2011.
In Georgia, the coal waste is being shipped to the Veolia landfill in Taylor Count, about 100 miles south of Atlanta. Local residents have dubbed the dump site "Trash Mountain." Sierra Club representative Mark Woodall said the landfill is poorly suited to coal ash storage, because it is "located in a groundwater recharge area, and it's a danger to our groundwater resources in Georgia."
The ash will be transported from Tennessee to the out-of-state landfills through May 15, 2009. State and federal officials will evaluate whether the tests are successful, and if so whether to bring in more of the TVA coal waste. Just days after news of the test shipments were announced, EPA decided to take over cleanup of the spill. The agreement between EPA and TVA, which was executed under the Superfund law, has EPA overseeing the cleanup and TVA reimbursing EPA for its oversight costs.
Landfill selections raise environmental justice concerns
Both the Georgia and Alabama landfills are located in areas with higher rates of poverty and higher percentages of African-American residents than state averages, a situation that has raised concerns about environmental justice. In Taylor County, more than 24 percent of the population lives in poverty, and over 40 percent of the population is African-American; by contrast, the state as a whole has a 14 percent poverty rate and is 30 percent African-American. Perry County in Alabama has more than 32 percent of its residents living in poverty and a 69 percent African-American population, compared with the state as a whole, which has a poverty rate of over 16 percent and a 26 percent African-American population. Perry County District Attorney Michael Jackson criticized the EPA for allowing TVA to dispose of ash at a landfill in a poor community in Alabama, calling the decision "tragic and shortsighted." He vowed to monitor the disposal site to ensure the process complies with environmental regulations.
Reports show that TVA also considered moving the coal ash to two communities in eastern Tennessee, both of which have populations of well over 90 percent white residents and poverty rates of under 21 percent. The two Tennessee sites considered were Athens in McMinn County and Oneida in Scott County. However, the company sought approval from state regulators solely for the sites in Georgia and Alabama. The communities that are receiving the coal waste from TVA were not provided an opportunity for public comment on the decision.
June 2010: Lawsuit filed
On June 21, 2010, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of 64 Perry County residents against the companies operating the landfill receiving coal ash from the TVA disaster in Tennessee. The lawsuit, filed in Perry County Circuit Court, contends the landfill is violating environmental rules and asks that the operators be barred from continuing to harm the residents living near Arrowhead Landfill, who have been harmed by the odor, noise, and pollution from negligent management of the dump site. The suit asks for a jury trial. Keith Clark, a Birmingham lawyer who filed the suit along with environmental attorney David Ludder of Tallahassee, Fla., said the amount of damages is to be determined at trial.
Mike Smith, an attorney for defendants Phill-Con and Phillips and Jordan Inc., said they could not comment on specifics in the suit: "We will be closely reviewing the attorneys' allegations. And, in the interim, will continue to operate the Arrowhead Landfill in full accordance with state, federal and local laws and regulations."
Public nuisance suit North Carolina v. TVA
On January 13, 2009, in North Carolina ex rel. Cooper v. Tennessee Valley Authority (W.D. N.C. Jan. 13, 2009), North Carolina District Judge Lacy Thornburg declared that air emissions from three coal-fired plants located in eastern Tennessee and one plant located in Alabama, all operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, are a public nuisance under state law. On July 26th, 2010, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit, setting aside an injunction that would have required the installation of more than a billion dollars worth of emissions control technologies at four TVA plants in Alabama and Tennessee.
March 2011: Citizens call for stronger coal ash regulation
In March 2011, Alabama residents concerned about the effects of coal waste in their neighborhoods went to Montgomery to argue that a proposed bill to regulate coal ash disposal in Alabama does not go far enough and should be amended to label the substance as a toxic waste, subject to federal regulation under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Such a change would mean ash would have to be taken to a toxic waste landfill rather than a dump licensed for household garbage, like the one in Perry County.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Greg Canfield, R-Vestavia Hills, was supported by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, and approved on March 4, 2011, by the House Commerce and Small Business Committee on a voice vote. It will then go to the full House for debate.
Several Perry County residents told a House committee that coal ash gets on cars, houses and on the ground in the area near the dump, which accepted coal ash from a massive environmental accident in Tennessee, the TVA Kingston Disaster. The coal ash was brought into Perry County by train from Kingston, Tenn., where at least 5 million cubic yards of the material "spilled" from a Tennessee Valley Authority holding pond in December 2008.
Alabama is currently the only state that does not regulate dry ash as a solid waste, allowing it to be dumped in any field without restrictions. ADEM claims the state cannot label coal ash as a hazardous waste until the Environmental Protection Agency takes that step. Consumer advocate Barbara Evans said coal ash is toxic and should only be dumped in places like the large toxic waste landfill at Emelle in Sumter County near the Mississippi line. She said she's concerned the bill will open the door for more ash to be deposited in Alabama dumps.
Sep. 2010: UA student protests
On September 14, 2010, college students from the University of Alabama at Birminghman (UAB) protested against the possibility of UA leasing land for a new coal mine. The Birmingham Water Works Board has asked the Alabama Surface Mining Commission to deny the permit application for the proposed Shepherd's Bend Mine, saying it would be too close to a drinking water intake on the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River. If it is approved the mine operator would still need to secure leases from the University of Alabama System which owns some of the property in question. Students gathered on UAB's campus to try and keep that from happening, and those involved with the Green Initiative and the Coalition of Alabama Students for the environment handed more than seven hundred signatures from people opposed to the mine to UA System Spokesperson Kellee Reinhart. In the past the University of Alabama System has reportedly looked into leasing the land.
Coal lobbying groups
Coal power companies
- Alabama Power, owned by Southern Company
- Tennessee Valley Authority
- PowerSouth Energy Cooperative
- Headquarters in Andalusia, AL
- Owns 3 generating stations with 538 MW capacity
Proposed coal plants
There are currently no proposals - either active or cancelled - to build coal-fired power plants in Alabama.
Largest coal plants
The following list of 8 plants with capacity of over 400 megawatts (MW) represent 98.1% of Alabama's coal energy generating capacity, 58.6% of the state's total CO2 emissions, and 57.6% of its total SO2 emissions.
|Plant Name||County||Owner||Year(s) Built||Capacity||2007 CO2 Emissions||2006 SO2 Emissions||SO2/MW Rank|
|Miller||Jefferson||Southern Company||1978, 1985, 1989, 1991||2822 MW||20,600,000 tons||53,379 tons||190|
|Gaston||Shelby||Southern Company||1960, 1961, 1962, 1974||2013 MW||12,200,000 tons||130,494 tons||18|
|Widows Creek||Jackson||Tennessee Valley Authority||1952, 1953, 1954, 1961, 1965||1969 MW||9,976,000 tons||33,507 tons||137|
|Barry||Mobile||Southern Company||1954, 1959, 1969, 1971||1771 MW||12,800,000 tons||52,621 tons||133|
|Gorgas||Walker||Southern Company||1951, 1952, 1956, 1958, 1972||1417 MW||8,258,000 tons||81,268 tons||32|
|Colbert||Colbert||Tennessee Valley Authority||1955, 1965||1350 MW||7,317,000 tons||39,942 tons||86|
|Greene County||Greene||Southern Company||1965, 1966||568 MW||3,760,000 tons||37,863 tons||33|
|Charles R. Lowman||Washington||PowerSouth Energy Cooperative||1969, 1978, 1980||538 MW||4,825,000 tons||17,878 tons||97|
Existing coal plants
For a map of existing coal plants in the state, see the bottom of this page.
Proposed Plant Retirements
December 2009: TVA considering shutting down some aging coal plants
In August 2009, CEO Tom D. Kilgore announced that TVA was studying the possibility of closing its John Sevier Fossil Plant in Tennessee and the oldest six units at its Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Alabama. A federal judge has ordered TVA to install pollution equipment on the plants by the end of 2013, at an estimated cost of more than $1 billion. However, the company has not yet budgeted any money for the improvements. In 2010 TVA is planning to begin building an $820 million gas-powered plant to replace the generation at its John Sevier Plant. The agency has already reduced power production from the oldest six units at Widows Creek. Environmental groups want TVA to shut down or convert to cleaner fuels the oldest and least efficient of its coal plants, including Widows Creek, John Sevier, and Johnsonville plants.
August 2010: TVA Announces Plans to Retire 9 Coal-Fired Units
On August 24, 2010 TVA announced that it will retire 9 coal-fired generating units totaling about 1,000 megawatts of capacity at three locations beginning in fiscal year 2011: Shawnee Fossil Plant Unit 10 in Kentucky, John Sevier Fossil Plant Units 1 and 2 in Tennessee, and Widows Creek Fossil Plant Units 1-6 in Alabama, including six units at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant. In addition TVA stated that it will going to eliminate 200 jobs at these plants starting in 2011, but the workers will be placed in other positions within TVA. CEO Tom D. Kilgore said that TVA would replace the sidelined coal power with greater reliance on nuclear power and energy efficiency.
July 2013: Colbert Fossil Plant Units 1-4 to be idled or retired in 2016
In July 2013 TVA announced plans to idle or remove from service Colbert Fossil Plant units 1-4 starting June 30, 2016. The plans are the result of a 2011 Consent Decree arising out of consolidated litigation brought by several states and environmental groups for violations of the Clean Air Act. Under the decree, TVA was required to notify EPA of its plan for controlling air pollution at units 1-4 by June 30, 2013. Rather than installing new equipment, TVA opted to idle or retire the plants. According to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, unit 5 of the plant, which operated at only 15% of capacity in 2012, appeared also to be heading toward retirement.
Birmingham and Asthma
Birmingham has landed the 16th spot among 100 cities deemed as the "most challenging places to live with asthma," according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Asthma is characterized by inflammation of the air passages resulting in the temporary narrowing of the airways that transport air from the nose and mouth to the lungs. Asthma exacerbations have been linked specifically to exposure to ozone, a gas produced when nitrogen oxide reacts with volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight and heat. Nitrogen oxide is a byproduct of coal.
Major coal mines
For a list of coal mines in Alabama, go to Existing coal mines in Alabama
As of 2010 there were approximately 50 active coal mines in Alabama with production of approximately 19,915 short tons per year. Alabama's biggest coal seams run through Tuscaloosa, Fayette, Jefferson, Walker and Shelby counties. About two-thirds of Alabama's coal is high-grade metallurgical coal and is sold (mostly exported) for steel-making. The remaining one-third is mostly mined from surface mines and sold to coal-fired power plants. The metallurgical coal has a very low sulfur content, a high heat value, and is known as Blue Creek coal.
Two of the deepest underground coal mines in the U.S. are located near Brookwood, AL and are operated by Jim Walter Resources. Jim Walter Resources is Alabama's largest coal mining company, with 1,300 employees. The company's mines are the southernmost mines in the Appalachians.
Jefferson County coal mine to cut production
Cliffs Natural Resources, operator of coal mine in Jefferson County, announced in April 2009 that it would cut production and lay off 65 workers. The company will reduce output at its Oak Grove Mine and Concord Prep Plant in response to a downturn in the steel industry.
Drummond Coal lays off miners
2010: Growth in proposed mining permits
In December 2010, it was reported that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) had released draft permits for 25 new and expanded strip mines, particularly in the Black Warrior River watershed, a network of rivers that provide drinking water for numerous communities. The newly proposed ADEM permits contain some of EPA's suggested measures for more extensive water quality monitoring, but EPA's comments to ADEM indicated that it doesn't believe the state agency has adequate data on water quality in Alabama to determine what cumulative effect mining operations are having on the river system. For example, in Walker County, which has the greatest number of coal mines at 46, there are no water quality monitoring stations. EPA suggests requiring the mining companies to do in-stream monitoring as a condition of their permits at each mine. According to Alabama's 303d list, which catalogs state water bodies with pollution problems, surface mining and abandoned mines are the second-largest source of stream impairment, accounting for 14.5 percent of the impaired stream mileage.
Surface coal mining has been regulated in ways similar to large construction projects: mining companies are required to construct ponds that capture rainwater to prevent sediment from washing into creeks and streams, designed to allow sediment to settle out of water before it is allowed to flow off site. The EPA's new approach treats mining operations more like industrial sites, requiring testing of water discharges for a broad array of chemical and organic contaminants. The mines would have to stay within certain parameters on those chemicals. According to Nelson Brooke of Black Warrior Riverkeeper, this step helps ensure the water does not contain dangerous levels of mercury, lead, arsenic and other dissolved heavy metals that can be toxic to aquatic life and the water supply. Additionally, coal is often treated on site with chemicals to remove impurities, which can also wind up in the water.
The rise in proposed Alabama mining permits is due in part to rising demand from India and other Southeast Asian for metallurgical-grade coal, a form of coal that is cooked into coke used in the steel-making process. About two-thirds of the coal mined in Alabama is metallurgical coal. Despite the rise in permits, Alabama coal exports are growing: by September 2010, coal exports had topped $1.2 billion, surpassing several previous years' annual totals.
Coal Exports and Imports
In 1996, Alabama exported 13 million tons of coal. By 2000, the amount had declined to 3 million tons, while 5.5 million tons of coal were imported from Colombia. The Colombian coal shipped to the Alabama Power Company (APC, a subsidary of the Southern Company) and the Alabama Electrical Cooperative, via the Alabama State Docks. Before Colombian coal was imported, APC's plants had been fueled by coal from the Drummond Company's Alabama mines.
Colombian Coal and Human Rights Violations
Colombia's coal mines, like many industries in the country, are filled with stories of displacement and terror. A number of entire communities in the coalfields have been displaced, including Tabaco, a 700-person Afro-Colombian village that was razed in 2001. People living near the coalfields have faced malnutrition, diseases such as ringworm, and restricted access to land since the large mines opened up.
The Drummond Company (operator of la Loma mine) has been the subject of numerous lawsuits regarding the murders of 70 union miners and railroad workers, collectively. The murdered Colombians were killed by the notorious paramilitary group, United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which had been hired by Drummond to act as security. In addition to those killed, a lawsuit against Drummond describes "how hundreds of men, women, and children were terrorized in their homes, on their way to and from work… innocent people killed in or near their homes or kidnapped to never to return home, their spouses and children being beaten and tied up, and people being pulled off buses and summarily executed on the spot."
Carbon Capture and Storage in Alabama
In June 2010 the University of Alabama announced that it had "been awarded a U.S. Department of Energy grant totaling more than $4.85 million for a multidisciplinary project that will characterize geologic formations for carbon dioxide storage in Alabama". The project aims to "define an estimated 28 gigatons of carbon dioxide storage capacity underlying northwest Alabama". The funds originated from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. UA News reported that the project will "investigate the possibility for storage in an underground reservoir in the vicinity of the Alabama Power Gorgas Plant. Successful completion of the project has the potential to extend the useful life of coal-fired power plants throughout the region. By investigating the geology near existing power plants, transportation costs to a carbon dioxide storage area would be greatly reduced." Other groups involved in the project are the Alabama Geological Survey and Rice University and industry co-funders are Alabama Power and Southern Company.
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- David Bacon, "The Colombian Connection", "In These Times", July 23, 2001.
- Aviva Chomsky, "The dirty story behind local energy", "The Boston Phoenix", October 1, 2007.
- International Rights Advocates, "Juan Aquas Romero, et al. v. Drummond Company Inc., et al.", Plaintiff's Opening Brief, December 11, 2007.
- "Federal lawsuit alleges U.S. mining company Drummond paid millions to Colombian paramilitary terrorists who killed 67; including "execution" of union leaders", "Reuters", May 28, 2009.
- "Children of slain Colombian coal miners sue Drummond Co. in Birmingham federal court", "Birmingham News", March 20, 2009.
- "UA Receives DOE Grant for Carbon Storage Research", UA News (University of Alabama), June 8, 2010.
Existing coal plants in Alabama
Related SourceWatch articles
- TVA Widows Creek coal waste spill
- Existing U.S. Coal Plants
- Existing U.S. Coal Mines
- US proposed coal plants (both active and cancelled)
- Coal plants cancelled in 2007
- Coal plants cancelled in 2008
- EPA Coal Plant Settlements
- Profiles of other states (or click on the map)
- Current statistics, news items, documents and photos of mines in Southern Appalachia at CoalDiver
- Elizabeth Yates, "Mining Technology in the Coalfields of North-Central Alabama: Worker Safety and Environmental Health, 1825-1915," Princeton University, Bachelor of Arts Senior Thesis, April 11, 2006