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Company: Southern Company
Subject: Report on Coal Combustion Waste
Year: 2010
Sector: Energy Production
Lead Filer: Green Century Capital Management
Outcome:

Report on Coal Combustion Waste

 

WHEREAS:  Coal combustion waste (CCW) is a by-product of burning coal that contains 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 comprises a significant portion (68%) of Southern Company's generation capacity.

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.

Recent reports by the New York Times and others have drawn attention to CCW's impact on the nation's 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 toxic 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.

Our company also re-uses a significant portion of its CCW. While dry CCW has several beneficial re-uses, such as in concrete and pavement, it can also pose public health and environmental risks in the dry form.

The EPA plans to determine by the end of 2009 whether certain power plant by-products such as coal ash should be treated as hazardous waste, which would subject CCW to stricter regulations.

The EPA has identified over 580 CCW impoundment facilities around the country. At least 49 of these have been rated by the National Inventory of Dams (NID) as "high hazard potential" sites, where a dam breach would likely result in a loss of human life and significant environmental consequences.  According to our company's filings with the EPA, our company operates at least 18 CCW impoundments. One of these ponds, operated by Georgia Power, has been labeled "high hazard potential" by the NID.

Our company has withheld information about inspections and size of its ponds as confidential, despite disclosure of inspection information by all other responding companies, keeping shareholders in the dark about possible risks.

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, 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 2010, be prepared at reasonable cost, and omit confidential information such as proprietary data or legal strategy.

 

 


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