SB 1751: If coal ash is so safe, the utility and coal company executives should eat it!

If you were to believe the above coal ash "facts" circulated by the American Coal Ash Association 's Educational Foundation, coal ash is safe.

Or, "Coal ash offers our society extraordinary environmental and economic benefits without harm to public health and safety when properly managed." One wonders who is going to make sure things are "properly managed?" Not the Environmental Protection, if that group and the coal companies have their way, right now they're pushing hard for passage of S. 1751 to stop the EPA's plans to regulate coal ash, especially the Democratic senators from the states of North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, Montana and Alaska, all of whom are undecided on S. 1751. This despite the legitimate arguments that:

  •     S.1751 endangers the health and safety of thousands of communities: it will prevent the EPA from ever revisiting a federal coal ash rule even if it is found that coal ash dumps pose an even greater threat.
  •     S.1751 is a dangerous bill: it would allow the construction of coal ash dumps that don’t meet drinking water standards for arsenic, lead and other pollutants.
  •     S.1751 will cost American jobs: An October 2011 study by a Tufts University senior economist Frank Ackerman (email, bio)  found that strong coal ash regulations, such as the one proposed by the EPA in 2010, would generate 28,000 jobs annually.
  •     S.1751 will hurt recycling: once coal ash is dumped into water, which this bill would allow by permitting the construction of new coal ash ponds, it cannot be recycled.
  •     S.1751 fails to address the current threat: this bill will not phase out dangerous ash ponds or prevent another tragedy like the coal ash spill in Tennessee in 2008.
  •     Coal ash is hazardous to our health: the cancer risk from drinking water contaminated by arsenic near some coal ash ponds is 1 in 50, which is 2,000 times greater than the EPA’s acceptable risk level
  •     Coal ash is a national problem: it is the second largest industrial waste stream in the U.S.

Emily Enderly, also at Earth Justice, sent me a chart that compares the presence  or absence of regulatory requirements for coal ash under four different regulatory schemes:

(1) EPA’s proposed subtitle C (special waste) rule;
(2) EPA proposed subtitle D (nonhazardous waste) rule;
(3) the municipal solid waste (household trash) regulations found in 40 C.F.R Part 258.
(4) Coal Ash Bill (H.R. 2273 (passed 267 - 144 on October 14) which is identical to S. 1751

I've set up a link on google docs where you can view, print and/or download it:

Comparison of Coal Ash Regulation under Four RCRA Regulatory Schemes

If you don't want to register for google and would like a copy of the chart, email me.

Background information:

Please remember that if you live near an existing or proposed coal ash dump, you can sign on to the letter below being organized by Environmental Integrity  by sending your name and address-- including city, state and zip code-- in an email  to Sam Flenner <samf.environmentalintegrity@gmail.com > and cc LaToya Archibald < latoya.s.archibald@gmail.com> by noon, December 12 Eastern Time. If someone doesn't have email, you can send  their name, address, city state and zip code (Phone and email optional) along w. the copy below.  And if you're lucky enough not to have this problem pass this on to others who might.

No matter where you live, you can  email, fax or phone your Senator to tell them that coal ash is dangerous and SHOULD be regulated, vote AGAINST Senate bill 1751.

Okay, here's that form and  letter...



The following give their permission to (name local sponsor org) to include their names name and addresses on the letter entitled Don’t Forget Us addressed to members of the US Senate.  They and their family are My are directly impacted by lax state disposal safeguards of coal combustion waste.  They urge their federal Legislators to support the EPA’s rulemaking process under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and oppose any actions or legislation that would impede the EPA rulemaking process to set common-sense safeguards for the disposal of this waste.
Name: ____________________________________

Address: __________________________________ 

City: _____________ State: ___ Zip Code _______ 

Phone: ____________________ (optional)     
Email: ____________________ (optional)             


October 20, 2011
US Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator ____:

We understand that you may soon vote on a bill that would leave oversight of coal ash dumps to the states, and prevent EPA from taking action against polluters who threaten our air and groundwater. We are referring to S. 1751, which is identical to the industry-backed bill that cleared the House of Representatives on October 14. We know Congress has already heard from industry lobbyists, big contributors, and state bureaucrats. We live near these dumps, and put up with their pollution year after year. Please hear our voices.

We know what it is like to suffer through the daily onslaught of blowing ash, drink water from faucets contaminated with ash leachate, and see our wetlands and creeks poisoned with toxic metals like arsenic. We have complained again and again about the endless noise, dust and pollution from trucks dumping coal ash near us while we become more stressed out or sick and the value of our property plummets, with no real response from our states.

Some of us are also joining this letter because a new ash dump has been proposed nearby or because we are concerned about the growing threat of coal ash in our area and its impact on our health and the quality of life in our community. More than two years ago, we were promised that the US Environmental Protection Agency would finally set national standards to clean up these sites, and close the most dangerous ones.

Now we face legislation that would stop EPA in its tracks, and replace real standards with imaginary state “plans” that polluters could ignore without fear of enforcement by EPA. After what is already known about the danger from storing millions of tons of coal ash in unlined ponds, why would you tie the government’s hands from ever stopping this practice?

Do our lives matter to you?

Is protecting coal ash “recycling” from a “stigma” more important than our health or the quality of our water? Even those who believe “stigma” is real cannot seriously argue that shielding leaking dumps from EPA enforcement somehow makes recycling easier. And ash mixed with other wastes in leaking ponds – now a common practice – cannot be recycled at all.

What will you accomplish by requiring federal and state bureaucrats to review, and then approve, disapprove, and reapprove state plans that can never actually be enforced by EPA against polluters? If your own family’s drinking water was being contaminated, would you think haggling over “plans” the right response?
States have had decades to improve their management of these dumpsites, and have done nothing – or next to nothing – as contamination has spread, even after the Kingston dam collapse manifested the problem. We know good, hard-working people in our state agencies, but budget cuts, political pressure, the power of local polluters, and the lack of any serious oversight or enforcement from EPA make their job impossible.

Put yourself in our place. What if you lived near a power plant’s landfill or ash pond like we or our neighbors do, and found out that the water you and your children drink may be unsafe to drink? How long would you want to wait for your state agency to do something about the problem? Three years? Five years? Ten? We have waited that long, and are waiting still.

As the Americans who live next to our nation’s ash dumps, our opinions should matter. These dumps should have permits that we can comment on. We should be able to object to any permit or plan that threatens our lives and property, and the government should be given a deadline to respond to our concerns. Dumps that contaminate groundwater should be closed, and the groundwater cleaned up. And EPA should be able to crack down on polluters – without having to wade through endless “planning” —or the bill will mean nothing.

As you consider this legislation, please don’t forget about us. We are not against the coal industry. We simply want laws that protect people and that they be enforceable. We appreciate your time and consideration.