I grew up in Fairbanks Alaska on the Chena River, a few miles downriver from the Chena Power Plant, which is a coal burning power plant. It is owned by a company called Aurora Energy LLC, which is owned by Usibelli Coal. They are traded on the NYSE. This power plant is destroying the river and exposing the city of Fairbanks to toxins well above EPA limits. This has been proven. Nothing is being done.
Aurora Energy is a criminal enterprise. They are permitted to pump 20 million gallons of warm water per day into the narrow river. Permitted is a generous way of saying this, because they just started doing it, and several years later were issued a permit by the EPA over the objections of the community. They are also disposing of their coal ash in unlined makeshift dump sites all around town. Coal ash is one of the most toxic substances on earth. They claim there’s isn’t. But as you’ll see at the conclusion of this article, they are liars. This isn’t my opinion, it’s been proven.
A quick historical recap: Growing up in Fairbanks, the Chena River froze so thick you could drive a semi-truck across it, or a dozen semis. There was something called the Ice Bridge, a shortcut which allowed you to drive across the river in order to cut across town. The Iditarod sled dog race was hosted on the river, and 20,000 people stood on it, and there was no issue.
Now you can splash a rock into the Ice Bridge in the dead of winter. It is no more.
The power plant claims this is due to a “naturally occurring thermal plume”, and has little to do with the fact that they’re pumping 20 million gallons of water (and maybe more, nobody’s checking) into the river every day. This water is not tested for heavy metals or other toxic compounds, by the way.
As the river is no longer a corridor from the west side of Fairbanks to downtown for snowmachiners and skiers, there are obviously economic impacts on the city. Aurora Energy is not responsible for compensating the community for the loss of enjoyment of the river, and for the adverse affects on the city’s economy, including independently owned bars and restaurants situated on the river.
Aurora Energy is also illegally disposing of coal ash in the city by virtue of a few loopholes. They classify their ash as “fill”, meaning it can be used in construction projects. This is a clever way to pawn off their ash onto businesses and individuals in Fairbanks without having to worry about properly disposing of it. What they cannot get rid of, they have simply began dumping in giant mounds all around town.
Their CEO’s name is Buki Wright. He is a Republican guy from the South. He does not answer or return calls or emails, and neither does anyone else at Aurora Energy LLC. This is a strategy they employ, and get away with, because neither state nor federal environmental agencies hold his company accountable for any of their gross violations.
Buki Wright says Aurora Energy’s coal ash is no more toxic than the regular soil in Fairbanks, an assertion which would strain common sense. According to a report conducted by an environmental group called Alaska Community Action on Toxics, the coal ash in Fairbanks is up to seventy times more toxic than its regular soil. Aurora Energy is responsible for reporting the toxicity of their own coal ash, and their own emissions, to the EPA and the DEC, or Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
If that sounds insane, it is. Across this fine country, power plants simply tell environmental regulators what they’re emitting from their stacks. It’s an honor system, and there is zero accountability. I’ll spare a long diatribe about the coal industry’s history of atrocities, but one would think if any industry were to be permitted to operate on an honor system, it would not be this one.
Below is one instance where Aurora Energy was caught lying about their emissions. I was able to uncover it, and I am not an expert in the coal industry or even in environmental issues. If I were able to catch them lying doing some basic research, imagine what else they may be hiding.
So, in the year 2010, Aurora Energy reported that the Chena Power Plant emitted 1,126 pounds of lead. This would make it the 12th biggest emitter of lead of any power plant in the United States. This is especially concerning because the Chena Plant is a small power plant, and they were emitting more lead than plants up to fifty times larger, in terms of megawatts. Also, while lead itself is a dangerous element in terms of human health, it is an indicator of many other more dangerous compounds.
I looked at Aurora Energy’s self reported emissions data, and compared it to the data the EPA had listed for Aurora Energy. The EPA’s data showed that the Chena Power Plant actually emitted ZERO pounds of lead for that year, 2010, and for several other years. Now, if you’re thinking, isn’t it impossible for an operating coal fired power plant to have zero emissions, you’re correct.
It turns out that what Aurora Energy did was reclassify their air emissions as “off site land treatment”, of which they listed 2,242 pounds of lead. This means coal ash. If you’re following, they dumped all of their toxic waste into unlined landfills in the city of Fairbanks.
The fact that the EPA never caught onto this should tell you something about their level of oversight.
When I alerted Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation to what was happening, they became extremely defensive. The DEC also was willing to believe that the Chena Power Plant was emitting ZERO emissions from their power plant. You don’t have to be an expert on coal plants to realize this is impossible. What’s even more insane is that the DEC actually defended this stance.
I was finally able to garner a statement from the EPA, which is pasted below. A quick note: In the EPA’s response, “TRI” refers to something called the Toxic Release Inventory. It is the method by which self reported emissions data from power plants is catalogued by the EPA:
“Matt: Thanks for your patience as we followed up on your inquiry about TRI reporting discrepancies at the Aurora Energy power plant near Fairbanks.
You are correct. There does some to be some data missing from the facility’s TRI lead reporting from 2010 to 2015. When we looked at the data you offered and confirmed the gaps, we initiated our normal practice, which is to call companies and ask about changes as we become aware of them. As context: under the TRI program, Program Reporters can adjust their TRI reports at any time. It is within their discretion to submit new or corrected Form Rs.
Additionally, as part of reporting, the company must identify the principal methods used to determine their emissions quantities and the fate of those compounds (recycling, air, etc). These are expected to be provided by the company and are not system defaults. Ensuring that the data they report is accurate is one of the tasks of the TRI enforcement program.
Following our contact with the Aurora facility (based on your inquiry) regarding the missing data, they have been researching the basis of the errors in their reporting. According to them, there was a multi-year calculation error that has caused reports for lead and other chemicals to be inaccurate since 2006.”
They lied about their emissions data for over ten years. At this point, being naive, I expected the EPA to jump into action. They didn’t care. You can apparently change the data at any time. I asked if this behavior set off any alarm bells:
“In fact, it did. Upon reviewing the material you cited, we confirmed that there was missing data and immediately contacted the facility requesting an explanation and a timeline for when they anticipated to fill in the information gaps. The EPA may also consider enforcement action if we find that inaccurate data has been submitted.”
Clearly, again you don’t have to be an expert, inaccurate data was submitted, on purpose. The fact is the EPA and DEC are made up of lazy bureaucrats.
So, here’s what we know: The water being pumped into the Chena River is not being tested. The thawing of the river has an adverse effect on the city of Fairbanks. The power plant has drastically lied about their emissions. They are dumping their emissions in the city of Fairbanks, in uncovered mountains, near residential areas, and within watersheds. They are poisoning people, and they are killing people. That is not hyperbole.
This is a summary of a longer article I wrote, which many people, who fancy themselves intellectuals, complained was too long for them to read.
If you have any questions or need more clarification, don’t hesitate to read the original article, or contact me.