Waterkeepers in Alabama Fight for Virtual Coal Ash Hearings During Pandemic - Waterkeeper

Waterkeepers in Alabama Fight for Virtual Coal Ash Hearings During Pandemic

By: Julia Widmann

Photos of Alabama Power coal ash sites on the Black Warrior River by Black Warrior Riverkeeper/SouthWings.

Last week, Mobile Baykeeper, Coosa Riverkeeper, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, and several partners in Alabama swiftly jumped into action to protect the health and safety of Alabamians by pushing for safe and accessible public meetings about coal ash during a global pandemic.

Alabama Power Company is legally required to hold public meetings about its coal ash “corrective measures,” but the corporation announced the dates of the meetings during a global pandemic with barely any advertising and without virtual options nor clear social distancing guidelines, in a state with rapidly increasing daily COVID-19 case counts.

Alabama Power currently stores coal ash waste in ponds situated dangerously close to the Mobile, Coosa, and Black Warrior Rivers, where one storm or flood risks sending the highly concentrated toxins into the rivers, contaminating communities’ drinking water, destroying local fishing and seafood industries, and damaging an already fragile ecosystem.

Alabama Power is undermining public health through its late and stealthy notice of these meetings, its failure to provide virtual alternatives, and its failure to tell the public whether masks will be required nor what the maximum capacity of each venue will be with social distancing protocols, at an essential public meeting about the storage of toxic substances.

In Mobile Baykeeper’s press release, Executive Director & Baykeeper Casi Callaway explains the danger behind the corporation’s actions and lack thereof:

“Alabama Power plans to leave 21 million tons of toxic coal ash – 20 times the volume of the BP Oil Disaster – by the Mobile River. That is absolutely something the public should be invited to discuss. Hosting this meeting now and giving our communities no real notice is a clear attempt to undermine the public interest. They are preventing Alabama citizens from attending important meetings related to the long-term storage of toxic coal ash.”

Black Warrior Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke expressed the same frustrations in his organization’s press release:

“Alabama Power is irresponsibly holding public meetings on short notice, as Alabama’s COVID-19 cases are spiking alarmingly, which is on par with the utility’s seemingly low level of regard for public health and safety, given their refusal to responsibly remove their toxic coal ash next to our rivers.”

Coosa Riverkeeper, too, shared this sentiment on its Facebook page:

“How to dispose of toxic coal ash contaminating our groundwater around the Gaston Steam Plant on Lay Lake should NOT be decided during a pandemic when the public is unable to meaningfully participate. Alabama Power has performed virtually NO outreach to make folks aware of these meetings throughout the state… and y’all we need this stuff off of our river and in an lined, upland landfill.”

All three groups shared a petition asking Alabama Power to reschedule the meetings, add more dates, provide clear social distancing guidelines and virtual options, real and substantive opportunities for public engagement, and more. 

Anyone in the U.S. can support their petition, which fights for safer and more opportunities for public meetings to ultimately protect Alabama rivers and the Gulf of Mexico:

Photos of Alabama Power coal ash sites on the Black Warrior River by Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper. Flight provided by SouthWings.org.