Environmentalists disagree over whether new mining rules will do enough to protect the waters of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Linda Stephan reports:
Environmentalists disagree over whether new mining rules will do
enough to protect the waters of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Linda Stephan reports:
A type of mining called deep-shaft sulfide mining is controversial. That’s
because it can cause sulfuric acid to get into the waterways.
Under new rules in Michigan, companies that want to open mines will
have to prove absolutely no toxins will escape the mine and pollute soil,
ground water, or surface waters. That’s even once the mine’s been shut
Marvin Roberson is a Sierra Club representative who helped shape the
“That’s an extremely high standard. The fact of the matter is, I think it’s
going to be very, very difficult for most applicants to meet the standards
that are set in this, and those that do will be pretty clearly opening
facilities that won’t be causing environmental harm.”
But an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation says there are some
areas where erosion, landslides, or water pollution can’t be prevented,
and the new rules don’t restrict where a mine can be built.
A Conesville, OH smokestack. The Cuyahoga Valley Initiative has found a way to turn potential pollutants into money. (Photo by Kenn Kiser)
The Rust Belt regions of the United States are looking at new ways to make industrial prosperity and environmental recovery work hand-in-hand. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shula Neuman reports on an effort that could be a model for industrial areas throughout the nation:
The Rust Belt regions of the United States are looking at new ways to make industrial
prosperity and environmental recovery work hand-in-hand. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Shula Neuman reports on an effort that could be a model for industrial
areas throughout the nation:
(sound of birds)
This area of Cleveland near the Cuyahoga River is where John D. Rockefeller first set up
his Standard Oil empire. The Cuyahoga is infamous for being the river that caught fire in
1969 and it became a symbol of the nation’s pollution problem.
Cleveland businesses and industries still live with that legacy. But through a new effort
called the Cuyahoga Valley Initiative, they’re trying to overcome it – although on the
surface it doesn’t look like there’s much happening.
Today, smoke stacks from steel plants still tower above head … below, like a jumble of
twisted licorice sticks, railroad tracks run through the meadows alongside the Cuyahoga.
Silos and old brick buildings line the banks of the river.
For Paul Alsenas, it’s an amazing place — not so much for what it has now, but for what it
can become. Alsensas is the director of planning for Cuyahoga County, the lead
organizer of the Cuyahoga Valley Initiative. The idea of the initiative is not to abandon
industry, he says, but to incorporate environmental and social principals into industry,
which could attract new businesses.
One of the more progressive aspects of the Initiative is something called “industrial
symbiosis.” Alsenas says industrial symbiosis works like natural ecology…
“An ecology of industry where nutrients flow from one form of life to another and make
it tremendously efficient and so therefore we have a competitive advantage. The
Cuyahoga Valley Initiative is not just about sustainability; it’s also whole systems
thinking, it’s also competitive strategy.”
Here’s how it works: waste from one company—a chemical by-product perhaps—is
used by a neighboring company to create its product. And that company’s product is then
sold to another company within the valley—and so on.
Alsenas says it’s already started: some companies located in the Cuyahoga Valley have
been sniffing out opportunities for sharing resources before anyone heard of the
Cuyahoga Valley Initiative. Joe Turgeon, CEO and co-owner of Zaclon, a chemical
manufacturer in the valley, says the Initiative sped things up.
“We pull all the members together and say, ‘OK, this is what I’ve got, this is what you’ve
got; here are some of the materials I need, here are some of the assets I have.’ And an
asset can be anything from a truck scale to a rail siding to by-product energy to
Zaclon and its neighbor General Environmental Management have already begun their
symbiotic relationship. GEM now buys a Zaclon by-product, sulfuric acid, and in turn
Zaclon purchases a GEM byproduct. GEM president Eric Loftquist says the benefits go
beyond simply saving his company money.
“You know, we do business all over the country… but when you look around you see that
for every dollar you keep in this county, that generates taxes, generates jobs and the
benefits just keep rolling down. So you always want to look within.”
Loftquist says the Cuyahoga Valley Initiative encourages that effort. He says it’s
remarkable that it’s all coming together at the right time and with the right stakeholders.
It brings businesses together with government and area non-profits—including some
environmental groups—in a way not thought possible by industry and environmentalists
in the past.
Catherine Greener is with the Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit think tank that
studied the Cuyahoga Valley and is helping to get the initiative off the ground. She says
this area of the river—known as the regenerative zone could put Cleveland on the world’s
radar as a new business model.
“Cleveland has been known for being one of the seats of the industrial revolution and
what we’re seeing is a new industrial model that can emerge. How can you create
manufacturing jobs, industry jobs without jeopardizing the health and welfare of all the
people involved and also, to overuse a word, to ‘green’ the area around it?”
Greener says industrial symbiosis is a workable, practical solution because it makes
business sense… not just environmental sense…
“Sometimes I think about it as finding money in your pocket after you’ve washed your
pants. It’s always a bonus and you’ve always had it. And the resources that you have
here you’re just reinvesting in them and finding them and looking at them differently.”
The participants agree that “industrial symbiosis” won’t solve all the waste problems, but
it’s one part of a movement that’s making industrial cities re-think their relationship with
business and the environment.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Shula Neuman.
American Electric Power is working to stop blue clouds of sulfuric acid from descending on towns near the Ohio River. Ironically, the clouds are a by-product of a 200-million dollar system installed in May to help curb smog-producing emissions from the General James M. Gavin Power Plant. The search for a solution is being watched by other power plants in the U.S. that have to comply with stricter anti-smog regulations put in place by the federal government.
Blue clouds of sulfuric acid have descended upon towns in southeastern Ohio and West Virginia more than a dozen times since May. The clouds are from smoke stacks at American Electric Power’s General James M. Gavin plant in rural Cheshire, Ohio. It’s one of the largest coal-burning power plants in North America. The company blames a new 200 million dollar pollution control system for releasing more toxic emissions. If they’re right, other Midwestern power companies may face similar troubles when trying to comply with federal clean air laws. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports:
Blue clouds of sulfuric acid have descended upon towns in south-eastern Ohio and West Virginia more than a dozen times since may. The clouds are from smoke stacks at American Electric Powers General John M. Gavin plant in rural Cheshire, Ohio. It’s one of the largest coal-burning power plants in North America. The company blames a new 200-million dollar pollution control system for releasing more toxic emissions. If they’re right, other midwestern power companies may face similar troubles when trying to comply with federal clean air laws. The great lakes radio consortium’s Natalie Walston reports.
The small, rundown airport in Mt. Pleasant sits on a flat part of the hills of West Virginia.
It’s surrounded by thick trees. Its rural enough here that it’s common to see wild turkeys dashing across the runways. One summer afternoon airport manager Ben Roush looked out his window. But instead of seeing a plane land … he saw thick smoke clinging to the tops of the trees.
“It looked like, uh, exhaust out of a car or something like that. It wasn’t black smoke it was blue. Very, very visible.”
After the smoke appeared, his phone began to ring.
“The fire department down here called up here and wanted to know if we had a fire up here because it was all in these … it settled to the ground. And, it was in those trees.”
The clouds contain high concentrations of sulfuric acid. That’s not normal … even this close to a power plant that burns coal with a high sulfur content. For years, most coal-burning power plants have had pollution control devices called “scrubbers” to deal with that sulfur. The scrubbers do just what the name implies – they scrub the air clean of sulfur dioxide as well as some other pollutants. But, they don’t do a good job in removing nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is blamed in part for causing acid rain and smog.
Paul Chodak is manager of American Electric Power’s Optimization Group. He says AEP installed a selective catalytic reduction system … or SCR … in an effort to remove nitrous oxide. Chodak says the SCR system is a relatively new technology. And, so far, it and the scrubber aren’t working well together. That’s because they are combining to make sulfuric acid, but in a different form. And that form then gets released into the air.
“The SO3 … or sulfuric acid is in very fine droplets … sub-micron size droplets. Very, very tiny. And they’re so small that they travel through the scrubber and they’re not removed. So, the scrubber works very well on the gas in removing SO2. However, it’s not very effective in removing SO3.”
Chodak says this is all because of an effort to reduce emissions that cause acid rain and smog in eastern seaboard states. But… as AEP scrambles to stop polluting the air hundreds of miles away … people who live beneath the smoke stacks claim their health is being sacrificed. They say that in the summer, when the sulfuric acid clouds move in it’s difficult to breathe.
(natural sound of NASCAR race and drunk people carrying on)
Gallipolis is a small city five miles south of the power plant. Today there’s a small crowd of people gathered at Sunny’s bar and grille. People here will only give their first names to an out of town reporter. A man named Steve is drinking a beer at a table with his sister. He says fallout from the plant makes the paint peel off cars.
“All that acid and stuff goes on these cars. They gotta repaint the cars … so you know it’s tearin’ us up. Our bodies. And, like I say, we worry about our kids and grandkids more. We’re old enough that it’s not gonna bother us no more.”
His sister Tammy drags slowly on a cigarette as Steve talks.
When he finishes, she jumps in to say that since the blue clouds started showing up, everyone in town has become sick.
“I have health problems. I cough all the time. Allergies all the time. Allergies to something’. Runny nose. Constantly. You know, I think everyone in town has health problems that live around here.”
But AEP claims the air is cleaner than it was before the SCR system was installed. Paul Chodak says the air turned blue this summer because the sulfuric acid reacted with sunlight on hot, humid days. He says people become scared because they could actually see what they were breathing.
“The hard thing for people to understand is that what is coming out of the stack is significantly cleaner than what was coming out before. This is an improvement from a pollution control perspective. However, it has created this local phenomena that is a problem. And, AEP is moving to address that and we will solve it.”
Sulfuric acid measurements taken by the company and examined by Ohio and U.S. EPA researchers meanwhile don’t show a major sulfuric acid problem. But there are no state standards in place in Ohio for levels of gaseous sulfuric acid in the air.
Kay Gilmer of the Ohio EPA says emissions from AEP have exceeded sulfuric acid standards set by other states. However, she says people near the plant stacks aren’t in immediate danger. But she hesitates to say the air is perfectly safe to breathe.
“We didn’t have anything that would um … that we would … that we looked at that was exceptionally high. But, that was, I don’t want to say that to say we’re not concerned with the problem.”
Meanwhile, people near the plant say they’re tired of having their health jeopardized so people far away from them can breathe easier. They are working with state environmental groups to possibly fight the power plant in court.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Natalie Walston.