The Skywriter

Coal ash roundup: Your voice is being heard (PICS) (UPDATED)

17
Nov

Coal ash roundup: Your voice is being heard (PICS) (UPDATED)

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UPDATE:

And the voices were heard -- in great numbers. Numbers are still coming in, but 256,606 comments were sent in so far across the coalition from groups such as:

Here at 1Sky, we'd like to thank everyone who wrote in and asked the EPA to take the strictest measures possible on coal ash. Thanks for stepping up to help protect our families and wildlife.

At the end of this week, the Environmental Protection Agency will close the door to public comments on regulating toxic coal ash. The ill effects from coal ash aren't in question; when the waste hits rivers, the drinking water becomes unsafe, wildlife faces immediate and toxic effects, entire communities can be poisoned. What does hang in the balance is how the EPA will react.

1Sky's Garth Moore gave us a comprehensive look at the effects coal ash has on the environment and local communities. There are two courses of action for classifying coal ash, which will determine how the substance is handled and where it can be placed.
  • The coal industry is pushing for the Subtitle D designation by the EPA, a classification for non-hazardous wastes. This measure would toss out many of the guidelines for how the toxic materials must be handled, leaving anyone living near coal combustion facilities vulnerable to the potential dangers. Many industry representatives cite stigma for coal ash recycled products as grounds to leave regulations at the wayside. Stigma can be overcome; the scale of health hazards and wildlife danger cannot.

  • The EPA's alternative is Subtitle C -- categorizing coal ash as special waste, creating disposal standards and phasing out of waste ponds. These waste ponds gained special attention in 2008 as torrents of coal ash sludge flooded the Emory River after such a pond's wall gave way at the Kingston Fossil Plant. The toxic chemicals in ash, such as arsenic lead, mercury, barium and thallium are known to cause serious health problems -- and prove deadly after prolonged exposure.

In August, the EPA kicked off their eight city series of coal ash hearings -- and Subtitle C supporters came strong. Here are a few highlights from around the nation:

Colorado

Regional organizer Micah Parkin shared his experience with us on the coal ash hearings in Denver, CO in September. This was the only EPA held hearing in the western United States, and turnout was strong. More than 250 supporters came out from 1Sky, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Colorado Interfaith Power and Light and Earth Guardians. Many gathered outside of the hearings to sign postcards and spread the message of coal ash's poisoning effects.

North Carolina

Pete Waltz, Organizing Director at the North Carolina Conservation Network reported that the rally in Charlotte was so popular, all his observations came by way of an overflow room set up for those who couldn't fit into the designated hearing room -- and there were plenty. Supporters displayed yellow "Protect Families: Clean Up Toxic Ash" badges as they made their way through a crowd.

Kentucky

In Louisville, they came out swinging -- literally. Greenpeace activists swung from ropes off of the Seelbach Hotel in downtown Louisville to hang a banner running the script "Protect people, not polluters." Kentucky is a true coal ash battleground: two coal plants are right in Louisville and another is in New Albany. Subtitle C supporters weren't deterred. Joy Futrell, a 1Sky organizer described the difference in support between C and D supporters at the hearings as pretty stark. Turn out from those supporting regulation for the toxic ash numbered in the hundreds, while only three coal industry representatives made the trip.

Tennessee, the hearing that almost wasn't

Originally, the EPA had left Tennessee of the list of hearing sites, but pressure from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and Senator Lamar Alexander no doubt contributed to the EPA's decision to make the date in Knoxville. With the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant spill fresh in everyone's minds, many took to the microphone. Cleanenergy.org reports one resident, Sarah McCoin, cautioning the EPA to let their decision be one without regret, explaining without regulations "another community will be affected as we have been."

Here are some photos from our friends at the Tennessee hearing:

Even if a hearing didn't happen to your town, don't let the chance for your voice to be heard by the EPA slip away. Sign the 1Sky petition today, and help ensure that the EPA enacts the strongest possible regulation of toxic coal ash. The EPA comment period closes this Friday, November 19th at 6PM.

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