Good news and bad news


Fotolia image of a Tennessee waterfall

Yet another reason to use as little coal-generated electricity as possible is provided by a 12/22 eco-disaster in Tennessee, where 5.4 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash sludge from the Kingston Fossil Plant now covers 400 acres of Harriman County. An earth dam was unable to contain the waste created by the coal-fired power plant. A complex river and stream system here provides drinking water to much of the region; it is further compromised by the fact that the EPA, under the current administration, is reluctant to protect these waters from the destructive effects of coal mining and electricity generation. This morning I listened to some functionary from the area assuring his audience that the water was safe, after drinking a glass of it. I lived in Western New York throughout the Love Canal disaster, so I have a pretty good idea of how much these assurances are often worth. It could be safe. Maybe. In any case, I am sure many of the recipients of this drinking water are completely unaware of what goes on at its source—and that could be said of many of us. UPDATE: Chris C. recommends these blog posts from an observer who lives outside of Knoxville.

NOAA/NURP. This roughy is unlikely to end up on your plate.

And now the good news. Apparently, as long as it doesn’t affect the wallets of his buddies, and it’s really, really far away, our current president is okay with protecting some of the water under U.S. control. As many of you have likely heard, three areas of the Pacific Ocean—the Marianas Trench (site of the deepest point on earth), Rose Atoll, and Pacific Remote Islands have been designated as marine national monuments, receiving the highest level of environmental recognition and conservation. This amounts to 195, 274 square miles of protection, within which are reef sharks, giant clams, nesting petrel, and other creatures that only the most intrepid of us will ever see.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Lest we forget: we are so dependent on coal-based electricity because a certain class of citizens protested so much after a certain minor (in U.S.) nuclear accident 3-odd decades ago. Probably the same ones throwing the wrench in Yucca Mountain right now. So now we have global warming, arctic melting, and strip-mined Kentucky, and we’ll still have to go nuclear. Nothing gained, much ruined. Any blushing out there?

  2. Lest we forget, vast areas of this country could make good and efficient use of solar electricity! Could the investment needed for that infrastructure possibly be more than for nuclear? Solar would certainly be safer, for the present and the future. Even if solar were used only where sunlight was most dependable, that would decrease the need for other forms of supply. Nuclear is not the answer.

  3. The “nuclear incident” was “minor” only in comparison to Chernobyl!

    I’d like to have nuclear power as a clean, relatively undisturbing, power source…

    …but there’s NO place to put spent fuel rods… PERIOD!

    And EVERYONE (particularly those areas that use the most power!)wants it buried in someone else’s backyard!

    And folks are SO ignorant of reality… I remember someone who wanted to ship all radioactive waste to “the Dakotas” because “no one lives there”, and they have “absolutely bottomless” caves!

    I can’t think of a faster way to get radioactive materials into the groundwater than that!

    We need to clean coal up as much as possible, and work persistantly on solar and wind…

  4. I can’t remember where I read it, but Oregon – rainy, dreary-winter Oregon – gets as much or more sunshine than Germany, the leader in solar energy. If they can do it, so can we, and if we can do it, then I’d think all other states, except perhaps Alaska with their weeks of darkness, can do it, too. It’s free (once you pay for set-up, which is still steep, unfortunately) and produces no undesirable waste, unlike nuclear energy. My hesitation with nuclear power is that they still don’t have a reliable method for waste treatment. Store it in the ground and worry about it later? Doesn’t thrill me.

    Elizabeth, I heard about the president’s move to protect those waters. Bravo and about time!

  5. Three Mile Island was minor in comparison to ANY accident.
    There is no groundwater under Yucca to be contaminated.
    Wind power chops up migratory birds.

  6. While the new marine protections are good, it does not absolve the current administration of ignoring our involvement in global warming – which is raising sea levels in those same island chains, and raising water temperatures faster than marine life can adapt. It is not enough to declare ocean areas “protected” if all our other actions lead to their decline.

  7. This is sad news and a blatant example of groundwater pollution. It’s the less blatant pollution that worries me — urban run-off that enters storm drains taking all sorts of garbage with it.

    Rain gardens can absorb at least some of this run-off and filter it before it enters the water supply.

  8. While I am pleased that this president is at last doing something good for the environment in protecting some ocean places under US control, I am left wondering why this same president has led the effort to open so much federally-protected land to timber and mining interests, to open national parks to snowmobiles, etc. One hand giveth, the other taketh. Perhaps he is thinking of his legacy?

    As for nuclear power, certainly it is used widely in Europe — the French depend on it almost exclusively. The problem of the spent fuel seems insurmountable, and I don’t see how we can ignore that. We could though be doing more to develop solar and wind technologies and there are definitely major innovations in solar. Just recently I read an article about a family in this area (DC) who used newly developed solar roofing tiles so that their whole roof is a solar collector — expensive, but like everything else the cost would fall with more production. Yes — r&d is expensive, but it’s not going to get any cheaper and we are running out of time now.

    Putting soapbox away now.

  9. For those who want to know more about this environmental disaster that was largely ignored in the MSM, Gulahiyi has two informative posts on this in real time.

    My part time neighbor across the scenic highway is on the board of the TVA and I have no doubt that he is heart sick about this disaster. He put a stop to the selling of TVA lands around their lakes against the objections of local, state and federal politicians wanting tax revenues on second homes and development to preserve these as wild lands and clean water sources for the future. Plus this spill is literally in his back yard just outside of Knoxville.

    Still one man on a board can’t steer a very old and entrenched bureaucracy whose purpose is to generate electricity from coal, hydro and now a new nuclear plant to being environmentally benign. Better containment damns for their toxic sludge ponds would be good though.

    Someone will have to research this, but I have it on good authority, the liberal activist sister of the head engineer of the Duke nuclear power plant in NC, that part of the US problem with nuclear waste is that unlike France we require the nuclear reaction be stopped before the fuel is spent to prevent it from going through the weapons grade plutonium stage. The resulting radioactive waste we end up with is thus four times the amount or more in volume than what France ends up with by keeping the reaction going for as long as possible. It would be simple at least to reduce the amount of waste a nuclear power plant generates as a start.

    Personally I think it is feasible and reasonable to consider rocketing nuclear waste directly into the sun

  10. Rocketing nuclear waste into the Sun is possible, but utterly non-feasible in terms of expense (the delta-v required to put a significant amount of weight into the Sun is enormous. It’s probably cheaper to launch it towards Alpha Centauri (and we don’t want THEM mad at us:)

    In addition, actually launching such incredibly radioactive material would raise an uproar and present very serious problems (folks were upset about launching probes with small amounts of very low level radioactive material… imagine the response to launching fuel rods!)

  11. Thinking for a little while about some of the comments here–rainymountain’s comment about using less electricity really makes a lot of sense to me. Last year I bought a wind-powered solar dryer (clothesline, in oldspeak) and find that for about 8 months of the year here in the mid-Atlantic area I can use it to dry the laundry. At no cost. I suppose some of my neighbours are muttering about the old bag on the corner who hangs her undies out to dry. Better than (a) paying mucho bucks for the electricity needed to run the dryer, and (b) continuing to pollute the atmosphere with the coalburning electric plants we have here. And just when did we get so precious that drying laundry became offensive?

  12. Nuclear is definately not the answer. A combination of wind and solar could be though. We’re certainly getting enough “systems” pushing through with plenty of wind these days. Even areas with seasonal sun are getting winds…. and wind does not chop up migratory birds – birds avoid the turbulence created by the blades. A tower is stationary, unlike a plane for instance, so there is plenty of warning and plenty of time to avoid a crash course.

  13. Birds do have problems with wind turbines… As much as I’d like to see lots of clean windpower, we do have to be careful with their design and placement.

    More than a few hawks, etc., have been chopped up flying through windfarms.

  14. TC and others who want more info,

    I have included a link to a blogger who is much closer to this situation than I am. Also, I advise looking in NPR archives and traditional media websites for better follow by on-the-spot reporters. I don’t know that I’ll post on this again.

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