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Prison Drinking Water and Wastewater Pollution Threaten Environmental Safety Nationwide

By John E. Dannenberg - Prison Legal News, November 15, 2017

Aging infrastructure concerns are not limited to America's highways, bridges and dams. Today, crumbling, overcrowded prisons and jails nationwide are bursting at the seams -- literally -- leaking environmentally dangerous effluents not just inside prisons, but also into local rivers, water tables and community water supplies. Because prisons are inherently detested and ignored institutions, the hidden menace of pollution from them has stayed below the radar. In this report, PLN exposes the magnitude and extent of the problem from data collected over the past several years from seventeen states.

Alabama

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has been ignoring complaints of wastewater pollution from its prisons since 1991. Back then, the problem was limited to leaking sewage from the St. Clair prison. Although the Alabama Legislature promised to provide the $2.3 million needed to build a new wastewater treatment plant that would match St. Clair's vastly expanded population, no money has been appropriated.

Today, the problem has grown statewide and includes pollution from ADOC's Draper, Elmore, Fountain/Holman, Limestone prisons and the Farcquhar Cattle Ranch and Red Eagle Honor Farm. The problem has drawn the ire of the private watchdog group, Black Warrior Riverkeeper (BWR) and of the state Attorney General (AG), both of whom have filed lawsuits against ADOC. The AG's office claims ADOC is violating the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act (Act) by dumping raw sewage into Little Canoe Creek, from which it flows into the Coosa River. The AG has demanded that ADOC fix the problems and pay fines for the damage they have caused. All parties acknowledge that the problems stem from ADOC's doubling of its population to 28,000, while the wastewater treatment facilities were designed for less than half that number.

The environmental damage is huge. ADOC is pumping extremely high levels of toxic ammonia, fecal coliform, viruses, and parasites into local streams and rivers. When raw sewage hits clean water, it sucks up the available dissolved oxygen to aid decomposition. But in so doing, it asphyxiates aquatic plants and animals that depend on that oxygen.
Telltale disaster signs include rising water temperatures and the appearance of algae blooms. The pollution renders public waterways unfit for human recreation as well.

BWR notes in its suit that Donaldson State Prison has committed 1,060 violations of the Clean Water Act since 1999, dumping raw sewage into Big Branch and Valley creeks, and thence into the Black Warrior River. BWR seeks fines for the violations, which could range from $100 to $25,000 each. Peak overflows were documented at 808,000 gallons in just one day, which isn't surprising for a wastewater treatment plant designed to handle a maximum of 270,000 gallons per day. Donaldson, designed to hold only 990 prisoners, has 1,500 today.

One path to reformation was found in turning over wastewater treatment to privately-run local community water treatment districts. Donaldson came into compliance with its wastewater permit after contracting with Alabama Utility Services in 2005. Limestone and other ADOC prisons are now seeking privatization solutions.

Jobs Beyond Coal

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, 2012

This manual is intended for anyone—communities, unions, environmentalists, native tribes, public officials, and others—involved with or affected by the retirement of coal-fired power plants. It is designed as a guide for those who wish to make the transition away from coal in a way that is most beneficial and least threatening to ordinary workers, consumers, and community members.

In the past decade, a broad-based campaign has formed to move America beyond coal and power the nation with clean energy. The movement includes people from all walks of life—medical professionals, faith leaders, environmentalists, business people, workers, decision makers, and local residents—who are working to address the serious pollution problems caused by coal and to seize the economic opportunity offered by clean, safe, renewable energy.

This campaign has been remarkably successful, preventing the construction of more than 165 new coal-fired power plants, and thereby keeping energy markets open for clean energy. In state after state, as newcoal proposals have stalled, advocates have launched campaigns to retire existing coal plants and replace them with clean energy, securing the retirement of more than 110 existing coal plants to date.The coal industry and their allies regularly claim that jobs, workers, and unions benefit from coal plants and that transitioning away from coal will harm them. Industry claims about creating or protecting jobs have often proved fallacious or hugely exaggerated. Still, this message resonates powerfully in tough economic times and presents a real challenge to coal retirement efforts.

Several recent campaigns have demonstrated that coal retirements can be structured in ways that take care of affected workers and the area economy, and even win the support of organized labor and local decision makers. As the case studies described in this manual show, addressing these economic challenges is most effective when the concerns of workers and the local economy are built into the campaign objectives, messaging, proposals, action, and interventions in policy arenas.

Read the report (PDF).

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