The Skywriter

Speak out on toxic coal ash crackdown by Nov. 19

10
Nov

Speak out on toxic coal ash crackdown by Nov. 19

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The Environmental Protection Agency will soon close its public comment period on regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste (submit your comments before Friday, November 19). It may seem a bit wonky or out of place to discuss the detrimental effects of coal ash in an every day conversation, but to the people who live near coal plants, it's a topic that concerns their health and welfare.

The most glaring example remains the 2008 Tennessee coal sludge disaster that poured more than a billion gallons of toxic coal sludge through Eastern Tennessee. And you might be closer to coal ash than you think (see Sierra Club's coal ash map).

Here are some sobering facts for why you should take action against toxic coal ash:

  • Coal combustion residuals from coal plants -- the coal ash waste produced by coal plants -- are actually more radioactive than waste generated by their nuclear counterparts;
  • The residuals contain contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic, which are associated with cancer and various other serious health effects;
  • There are more than 600 coal ash sites in 35 states, making it likely that you actually live near a coal ash dumping site;
  • A report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), Earthjustice and the Sierra Club in August showed that 39 coal combustion waste (CCW) disposal sites in 21 states have contaminated groundwater or surface water with toxic metals and other pollutants -- this on top of the similar damage at 31 coal combustion waste dumpsites in 14 states;
  • Coal ash can poison our water tables and waterways with these toxic substances, like with the Tennessee coal sludge disaster. Learn more about that coal sludge disaster's effects on the water table with this great video from Alexandra Cousteau -- the granddaughter of famous French ocean explorer, Jacques Cousteau -- on the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy's latest blog.

For the past three months, the EPA has held public hearings in Arlington, VA, Denver, Chicago, Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Louisville, KY, and Knoxville TN to hear public comments from everyday people, scientists, and activists from groups like 1Sky and Sierra Club on why the EPA must regulate coal ash. Of course, the coal industry claims that regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste would increase consumer prices for electricity and be harmful to the economy. In fact:

  • Ensuring coal combustion waste is properly disposed of would result in economic savings by reducing premature deaths, disease, and illness. These economic benefits will total up to $7.4 billion per year.
  • Coal waste regulation would increase electricity costs by less than 1% and have positive economic effects while simultaneously safeguarding public health.

Energy Biz's Ken Silverstein says coal is lobbying hard against regulations, noting:

The coal ash industry, however, says that the no matter what, the industry will be tainted. That's unfortunate, it adds, noting that if the material is properly handled, it presents no risk to the public. Moreover, because coal ash is now recycled, it reduces the effects on climate change.

The EPA has already said it will not focus regulations on how coal ash is recycled, noting the environmentally sound beneficial uses of ash conserves resources, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and lessens the strain on impoundments or landfills. But, to be clear, EPA chief Lisa Jackson says regulation must occur:

The time has come for common-sense national protections to ensure the safe disposal of coal ash. We’re proposing strong steps to address the serious risk of groundwater contamination and threats to drinking water and we’re also putting in place stronger safeguards against structural failures of coal ash impoundments. The health and the environment of all communities must be protected."

You can help ensure that the EPA enacts the strongest possible regulation of toxic coal ash by signing the 1Sky petition today.

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