Last week brought a lot of news about coal ash in national media, some good, some bad. On one side we learned of new information from EPA to add to the growing mountain of evidence about the risks of unregulated coal ash (that’s bad). On the other side we pulled out a narrow victory in Washington, DC, by keeping dangerous coal ash language out of the federal Transportation Bill (phew, that’s good!).
On June 27th the Environmental Protection Agency released new data on the number of coal ash dumps across the country. Prior to this release, EPA reported a total of just over 1,000 ash dumps (both ponds and landfills), a staggering number considering the danger that these dumps pose. We thought that number was high, but with this new information we now know the more accurate total is closer to 1,554 dumps, with around 400 located in the Southeast!
This new tally is an increase of more than 50% but there are even more unreported sites and disappearances of coal ash out there. Industries are refusing to identify all their dumps claiming “confidential business information”. Likewise, a government report from 2011 highlighted the particular problem where industries are “recycling” 70 million tons of coal ash by using it in roadbeds, golf courses, and other hidden places where we may never be able to find it or know it’s true health and environmental impact over time.
The day after EPA released this new data, members of Congress finally reached an agreement on a federal Transportation Bill and that agreement fortunately did not include a provision that would have prevented EPA from establishing coal ash safeguards. Representative David McKinley (R-W.Va) has been pushing a bill to undermine EPA’s authority and efforts to reduce the dangers of coal ash storage. With efforts to pass his bill through normal channels failing, Rep. McKinley tried to sneak it in to law through negotiations over transportation projects. Initially it appeared that the coal ash proposal would become law–undoing years of hard work by EPA, scientists and advocates–but at the eleventh hour negotiators thought better, rejected Rep. McKinley’s language and left EPA to do its job.
There is no way to tell whether EPA’s data release had any impact on the fate of coal ash in the Transportation Bill. Nonetheless, it is a rare pleasure to see a correlation between the accumulation of evidence and the actions of politicians. On the other hand, not all politicians are on the same page. According to Energy and Environment Daily, Rep. McKinley was clear that he will continue to push, saying “We’re not finished. I can say that. We’re not finished.”
Stay tuned… the mountains of coal ash evidence are piling high and we remain optimistic that eventually EPA will do the right thing and issue strong, comprehensive, federal rules to properly regulate the toxic waste leftover after power companies burn coal for power.
This piece does not fit neatly into either the good news or bad news category, but it is news. At the end of June the Environmental Integrity
Project, a close SACE ally, released an expose report drawing attention to the latest astroturfing by the coal industry. The publication reports on the apparent efforts of Citizens for Recycling First, a program of the American Coal Ash Association, to load up a coal ash petition to the White House with fake names written in Chinese characters. The report has gotten excellent coverage recently from Rachel Maddow, Think Progress, Facing South, and Mother Jones.
There is something funny about this, but we can’t forget that these scams are meant to undermine important environmental and human health safeguards.