The U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment on April 18 to the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012 (HR 4348) that would effectively pre-empt the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating coal ash, the waste from coal burning plants. About 140 million tons of coal ash are produced by power plants in the United States each year. There are about 1,000 active coal ash storage sites across the country.This is pure ALEC folks. If you need an example of how corporations will step over dead bodies to make a profit, this is it.
Here's a map of all the coal ash sites around the country.
The problem of coal ash you may remember is that it is held in retention ponds which have a nasty tendency to either burst open and drown communities below in toxic ash, or dry up and turn into toxic dust that blows into communities.
The Coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee in 2008 around Christmas was the most noteworthy of these accidents.
Now ALEC has pushed a bill through the House transportation bill that would basically forbid the federal government from ever regulating this horrible shit for what it is, toxic waste. (Yet another pollution cost of the coal industry that is borne by us, instead of the industry. These are known as "externalized costs.")
According to the EPA, the ash contains concentrations of arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and other metals, but the coal industry has claimed there is less mercury in the ash than in a fluorescent light bulb. However, the EPA found in 2010 that the cancer risk from arsenic near some unlined coal ash ponds was one in 50 -- 2,000 times the agency’s regulatory goal. Additionally, researchers from the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and Sierra Club have documented water contamination from coal ash sites in 186 locations. The new bill would strip the EPA’s authority to regulate the ash and hand it over to the states.Yes, this stuff is nasty. Learn more about the health impact of coal ash here.
The coal industry and its allies have been pushing several levers to stop the EPA from regulating coal ash, including passing resolutions through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Sadly, while the White House has promised to veto any transportation bill that includes Keystone XL pipeline, they are mum on this coal ash "get out of jail free card."
Get more details on the backroom shenanigans from the awesome Center for Media and Democracy.
Attorney Lisa Evans at Earthjustice has been doing amazing work for years to try to alert Americans to this threat.
“Politics and pressure from corporate lobbyists are delaying much needed health protections from coal ash,” said Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans. “The law states that the EPA should protect citizens who are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals in their drinking water from coal ash. As we clean up the smokestacks of power plants, we can’t just shift the pollution from air to water and think the problem is solved. The EPA must set strong, federally enforceable safeguards against this toxic menace.”
Be on the lookout over the next few days.
As the conference committee is formed to deal with the transportation bill we all need to stand up and demand the coal ash waiver be stricken from the transportation bill, if for no other reason that it has nothing to do with transportation and would never pass on its own.