The Skywriter

Huge anti-coal ash turnout at EPA hearing in Colorado


Huge anti-coal ash turnout at EPA hearing in Colorado


By 1Sky Colorado/regional organizer Micah Parkin. -- Luis

This month, the EPA is holding a series of public hearings across the nation regarding their proposal to place stronger regulations on storage and disposal of "coal combustion residues," a.k.a. coal ash. On the heels of the horrific coal ash spill in Tennessee in 2008, the EPA is proposing the first-ever rules to ensure the safe disposal and management of coal ash from coal-fired power plants. Coal ash, which is laden with mercury, arsenic, lead, radioactive elements and other toxins, poses serious threats to our drinking water and to the health of people who live near the 40 storage sites in Colorado and around the nation.

Unfortunately, the danger isn’t just theoretical: A recent study found that 39 sites in 21 states where coal-fired power plants dump their coal ash are contaminating water with toxic metals such as arsenic and other pollutants, and that the problem is more extensive than previously estimated. A little closer to home, I recently learned that two of the coal ash storage sites in Colorado have had spills in the last four years, one of which was at the Valmont Coal Plant in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado. Its on-site coal ash storage area reported a 25-cubic-yards spill into water reservoirs near the plant in 2008. As the mother of two little girls living within five miles of this facility, I wasn’t impressed.

The only coal ash public hearing in the western U.S. was held this past Thursday, Sept. 2nd in Denver, Colorado. Members of 1Sky, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Colorado Interfaith Power and Light, Earth Guardians and others worked together to turn out more than 250 people to the hearing. Many of the attendees gave testimony calling on the EPA to approve stronger regulations to protect the public from the many toxins in coal ash. Citizens ranging from kids group Earth Guardians to ranchers, ministers, doctors, retirees, college students and members of Native American tribes affected by the coal ash on their tribal lands urged the EPA to regulate coal ash under the more protective option proposed, Subtitle C, which would provide federal regulation, oversight, water testing, and enforcement.

Our coalition organized a mid-day press conference inside the hearing location while about three dozen activists from several groups gave away “coal ash lemonade” at our stand (a little public theater humor), and we distributed hundreds of flyers about the hearing and the dangers posed by coal ash contamination of drinking water. The Sierra Club reserved a conference room adjacent to the hearing room that afternoon and more than 100 people gathered to sign postcards and listen to music with a message and the stories of people around the Rocky Mountain region who have been personally impacted by the toxins in coal ash: Navajo, Hopi, Havasupai, and Western Shoshone tribal members from Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, and a rancher whose livestock are in danger of poisoning by coal ash toxins. Kids from Earth Guardians talked about the current state of the planet and implored adults to leave them a safe and healthy world. Doctors from Physicians for Social Responsibility and an autism prevention group called Safe Minds talked about the impacts of the poisons in coal ash on our bodies and minds. It was a powerful day and night. EPA officials listened intently for hours to all who spoke.

On the other side were industry officials concerned with the “stigma” that may be associated with the so-called “beneficial use” of coal ash residue in products such as wall board, concrete and fertilizers if stronger regulations are approved. They were concerned with the difficulty in promoting their product and potential sales impacts. It was a stark contrast to the other speakers and made no apologies for putting profits over public health. Regardless of the documented spills, they argued that state by state oversight was enough and that a "hazardous" designation could taint their product. They didn’t seem concerned about tainting people’s water and air.

Those burning coal and storing the ash should bear the responsibility of assuring the public safety from these toxins. Communities in which these facilities reside should not have to live in fear of their drinking water being contaminated, spills destroying their homes and making their communities unlivable, or wind-swept ash poisoning their children. These communities often already bear the burden of the pollution exiting coal plants towers.
We should all keep pushing the EPA for stronger regulation of toxic coal ash and encourage them to regulate under Subtitle C, creating a comprehensive program of federally enforceable requirements for waste management and disposal. This is the most appropriate action to protect public health and the environment. Please sign up to give testimony at an EPA coal ash hearing near you. If there isn’t one close by, sign 1Sky’s online petition, submit written comments easily through our ally Interfaith Power and Light online, or download a post card to mail from the Sierra Club (.pdf). Thank you!

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