Southern Company Coal Ash 2011
|Filer||Green Century Capital Management|
|Subject(s)||Climate Change; Coal; Coal Ash; Community Impacts; Water Pollution|
|Resolved Clause Summary||Coal ash risk mitigation report|
|Supporting Memo||Download PDF|
WHEREAS: Coal combustion waste (CCW or coal ash) is a by-product of burning coal that contains potentially high concentrations of arsenic, mercury, heavy metals and other toxins filtered out of smokestacks by pollution control equipment. CCW is often stored in landfills, impoundment ponds or abandoned mines. Over 130 million tons of CCW are generated each year in the U.S.
Coal combustion comprised a significant portion (57%) of Southern Company’s generation capacity in 2009.
The toxins in CCW have been linked to cancer, organ failure, and other serious health problems. In October 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a report finding that “Pollutants in coal combustion wastewater are of particular concern because they can occur in large quantities (i.e., total pounds) and at high concentrations …in discharges and leachate to groundwater and surface waters.”
The EPA has found evidence at over 60 sites in the U.S. that CCW has polluted ground and surface waters, including at least one site belonging to Southern Company. In some of these cases, companies have paid substantial fines and have suffered reputational consequences as a result of the contamination.
Reports by the New York Times and others have drawn attention to CCW’s impact on waterways, as a result of leaking CCW storage sites or direct discharge into surrounding rivers and streams.
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) 1.1 billion gallon CCW spill in December 2008 that covered over 300 acres in eastern Tennessee with coal ash sludge highlights the serious environmental risks associated with CCW. TVA estimates a total cleanup cost of $1.2 billion. This figure does not include the legal claims that have arisen in the spill’s aftermath.
Southern Company operates 22 CCW storage facilities but does not disclose whether each of these ponds has liners, caps, groundwater monitoring, or leachate collection systems beyond compliance with current regulations. This information is critical for investors to understand the potential impact of our company’s ash ponds on the environment and possible related risks.
Our company also re-uses a significant portion of its CCW. Some forms of reusing dry CCW can pose public health and environmental risks in the dry form by leaching into water.
The EPA has proposed rules to regulate CCW and will likely determine by the end of 2011 whether coal ash should be treated as “Special Waste” under Subtitle C, which would subject CCW to stricter regulations.
RESOLVED: Shareholders request that the Board prepare a report on the company’s efforts, above and beyond current compliance, to reduce environmental and health hazards associated with coal combustion waste contaminating water (including the implementation of caps, liners, groundwater monitoring, and/or leachate collection systems), and how those efforts may reduce legal, reputational and other risks to the company’s finances and operations. This report should be available to shareholders by August 2011, be prepared at reasonable cost, and omit confidential information such as proprietary data or legal strategy.