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Central Ohio Group Issues

This article was submitted for the November/December 2006  issue of the newsletter.


All Footnotes to this article are found here

American Electric Power, the largest electricity generator in the U.S., is headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. AEP directly or through wholly owned subsidiaries owns and operates approximately 80 power plants, more than 50 of which are coal-fired. AEP serves more than 5 million customers through its 11-state electricity transmission and distribution grid. They had a gross profit of $7.6 billion in 2005. AEP is the largest coal-burning utility in the U.S.

BREAKING THE LAW:  In 2005 AEP was sued by the Sierra Club and Public Citizen for thousands of violations at its Welsh power plant in Texas.  In that case, the Environmental Integrity Project urged the U.S. Justice Department to open a criminal investigation of AEP for extensive violations of the Clean Air Act as outlined by whistleblower Bill Wilson, who was fired by AEP in 2004 after calling attention to a wide range of air pollution problems. The charges included repeatedly and illegally burning chemical waste, misrepresenting data and frustrating regulatory requirements. In Feb. 2001 the IRS won a suit against AEP for making illegal tax deductions. In another case, fraudulent trading practices deceived investors into thinking the company was conducting a more robust business. This trading also enabled AEP to artificially raise prices. In 2005, AEP paid an $81million settlement for wrongdoing in its natural gas operations.

POLLUTION:  AEP has consistently opposed better clean-air standards and has fought efforts to require modern pollution controls. AEP purchased the entire village of Cheshire, Ohio in 2001 for $20 million in response to legal action. People outside the buyout boundary continue to live under the shadow of AEP’s Gavin and Kyger Creek power plants, and suffer from health issues ranging from acid burns to soot-related heart and lung disease. AEP is America’s biggest emitter of mercury. Every body of water in Ohio is under an advisory due to fish having excess levels of mercury.  Freshwater-fish consumption warnings have been posted in 34 other states. The largest source of this mercury is coal-burning power plants.  Available technology could prevent much of this mercury from being released.

AEP’s Gavin coal-fired power plant on the
Ohio River near Cheshire, OH.

Photo by Elisa Young, courtesy of Southwings

CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS AND POLITICAL INFLUENCE:  A week before a 2003 meeting between representatives of coal-burning utilities and officials from the White House and the EPA, the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign received $19,700 from employees at AEP. AEP CEO Michael Morris is a steady campaign contributor to Ohio’s Senator George Voinovich. In the 109th Congress, AEP had 2 former Voinovich chiefs of staff on its lobbying payroll. Voinovich became the most vocal Senate supporter of the Bush Administration’s “Clear Skies” plan, which in reality was an effort to shield utilities from global warming limits.  As Ohio’s former governor, Voinovich rallied industry leaders and governors for a legal attack on the U.S. EPA. In two lawsuits, the Voinovich-led legal attack challenged the EPA's right to demand sharp cuts in nitrogen oxides and ozone, as well as fine soot.  According to the Akron Beacon Journal, “Ties between Ohio politicians and the state's coal-fired power industry run deep, supported by friendships, favors and easy flow of coal and utility campaign money." AEP spent $7,261,051 between 1998 and 2004 on lobbying efforts to influence the rules and regulators that govern it, according to the Center for Public Integrity. While it was lobbying against an EPA cleanup plan on the grounds of being too costly, AEP was telling Merrill Lynch that it could flourish under the most stringent of cleanup requirements.

GREENWASHING:  There’s little evidence that AEP has ever done more than the bare minimum to protect the communities who live downwind from its plants. When it has installed pollution controls, the action has been spawned by legislation followed by litigation. The company is seeking to be reimbursed $13 million from Virginia ratepayers for its West Virginia cleanup, and will be asking for millions more as cleanup continues. AEP buys “public service” ads that extol its environmental sensitivity. The Bush Administration gave AEP a “climate protection” award in  2005.                                                                                                                        

MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL (MTR) COAL:  American Electric Power is the largest consumer of coal in the western hemisphere, purchasing a total volume of MTR coal equivalent to 25% of what leaves the state of West Virginia annually.  MTR is a method by which whole tops of mountains are blasted away to access coal seams below.  Some of the most biologically diverse temperate hardwood forests in the world are being eliminated by mountaintop removal, replaced by "reclaimed" grasslands sewn with exotic, invasive weeds. In 2002 the Bush Administration rewrote part of the federal Clean Water Act to allow mining waste to be used as an allowable fill material in streams and rivers.  Coal companies dump millions of tons of "overburden" (the rock and soil that lies above a coal seam) into mountain streams. Explosions shake the ground and damage the foundations of nearby houses, showering communities with dust from the blasting. Residents are subjected to flash floods as deforested mountains fail to hold back rainwater. In the mountains of Appalachia, giant coal waste impoundments hold billions of gallons of toxic coal waste.  Poor construction has allowed impoundments to fail, spilling billions of gallons of toxic waste. Fewer miners are needed with MTR, and labor unions have criticized anti-union practices associated with MTR. They have also called for additional legal measures to protect communities from the degradation that results from nearby blasting. 

OHIO COAL MINING:  According to Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates, 1200 miles of Ohio streams are contaminated by legacy acid mine drainage, many so badly that the streams cannot support life. The Army Corps of Engineers released estimates in 2005 that it will cost taxpayers $17million to clean up one watershed in Athens County to enable fish to live in the water. These “hidden” costs of coal are borne by the public, not by the coal and power companies.

GLOBAL WARMING AND NEW COAL PLANTS:  AEP pumps out more global warming carbon dioxide than any other American power company—while consistently lobbying against any effort in Congress to limit global warming pollution. The tragedy here is that scientific evidence is mounting that federal action is needed now to limit global warming pollution.  According to the US Dept. of Energy, in 2006 there are proposals for 153 new coal-fired power plants in the US, costing an estimated $136 billion.

NUCLEAR PLANTS AND VIOLATIONS:  AEP operates 2 nuclear power plants in Texas and Michigan. In 1998 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cited the Cook plant in Michigan for 37 safety violations and fined AEP $500,000, one of the largest fines in nuclear history. NRC noted that this massive action did not encompass all the safety violations known to have been committed at Cook.  In 2001 a group of AEP stockholders sued the utility, claiming that the company attempted for several years to cover up the severity of problems at the Cook nuclear plant. The Sierra Club continues to oppose nuclear power, noting that it is currently not safe, affordable or clean, and that the industry is heavily subsidized by public payments, incentives and liability shielding.

Mountaintop removal operation
near Kayford Mountain, W.Va.

Photo by Vivian Stockman
courtesy of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

“CLEAN” COAL:  There is no such thing as “clean coal.”  The coal fuel cycle, from mining to coal sludge impoundments and disposal of tailings and fly ash, causes extensive pollution of air, water, land, the food chain, and local communities.  While new technologies such as integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) may reduce CO2 emissions compared to conventional coal, new coal plants should be linked to the permanent shutdown of older, dirtier plants. While IGCC designs may be more compatible with approach currently exists to do so on a commercial basis.

ENVIROMENTAL JUSTICEIn 1998, when deciding where to build its new 765,000-volt transmission line, AEP chose the counties of Floyd, Giles, Bland, Montgomery, and Tazewell in West Virginia and Virginia. The residents of these areas were not consulted about the route, and the communities opposed it on the grounds that AEP deliberately chose to build its power line through communities with large numbers of poor and black residents. The communities claimed that  they will not benefit from the line, since it will be used to sell excess power to other states.                                


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