Note: It’s best to add to or modify the script below to personalize, if possible or add details from the talking points in SaveEPA’s excellent guide, Defending Health and Environmental Safeguards for Coal Ash Disposal, or the joint Environmental Integrity Project/Sierra Club/Earth Justice guide.
Coal ash is an extremely toxic waste that presents serious risks to human health and the environment. It is known to have high levels of mercury, arsenic, lead and many other contaminants that contribute to cancer, asthma, heart disease, birth defects and neurological and brain damage. Children - 1.5M of whom live near coal ash sites - are especially vulnerable. Coal ash is responsible for the largest toxic waste disaster in U.S. history - 1.2B tons - in Kingston, Tennessee in 2008. EPA’s own data show the widespread contamination of air, groundwater and surface water - including drinking water - resulting from the 1100 unlined and inadequately protected coal ash waste disposal sites in the U.S. Leaks, air pollution and discharges from poorly regulated coal ash disposal disproportionately affect the most vulnerable disadvantaged communities and children.
EPA’s proposed revision would harm citizens in order to reduce modest responsibility for utilities. It would do away with the most protective aspects of the rule by, for example, allowing states, and even the utilities and impoundment operators, to set their own standards - which need not be health-based - and to decide when cleanup of a release is necessary. This is an unacceptable dereliction of EPA’s responsibilities. Every community deserves equal protection based on the best science, and EPA enforcement is the backbone of providing that protection. Furthermore, communities deserve to know whether they are safe, so the existing rule’s requirement to publicly post compliance data should not be altered. Nor should the safer siting and management rules established in 2015 rule be changed.
EPA cites the savings to utility companies in its rationale for the proposed changes. However, when determining the overall costs and benefits of this proposed rulemaking, EPA must also take into account the costs of lost lives, workdays and property due to coal ash releases and contaminated drinking water; medical care for those affected by contamination; and environmental cleanup costs in the same way all of these costs were evaluated under the original proposal.
There is no basis in science or in cost/benefit analysis that justifies reducing the protections established under EPA’s 2015 rule. EPA should not weaken those safeguards but maintain the rule in its current form. The 2015 rule protects our citizens (especially vulnerable children) and our environment, and was supported by over half a million public comments.
Tell EPA NOT to roll back EPA’s 2015 coal ash safeguards. Click here or on the “Comment Now” link on this page to add your comment.
Coal ash (or coal combustion residuals (CCR)) is one of the largest categories of industrial waste in the United States. Created when coal is burned by utilities to produce electricity, coal ash includes mercury, arsenic and other hazardous contaminants. According to the EPA, 470 power plants generated about 110 million tons of coal ash in 2012. When not managed properly, the storage and disposal areas for coal ash can pose serious environmental and health risks. People living near coal ash disposal sites face contaminated drinking water, toxic dust in the air, and serious health threats, with children at particular risk for birth defects, asthma and cancer. An EPA study found that living within a mile of a coal ash disposal site had health effects equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
Coal ash is typically disposed of in unlined pits, often next to lakes and rivers. Hundreds of aging earthen dams hold back billions of tons of the toxic waste. As of 2014, there have been 208 known cases of coal-ash spills and contamination. A 2008 spill in Tennessee and another spill in 2014 in North Carolina had devastating impacts on watersheds, nearby homes, and public health.
In 2015, the EPA issued regulations to reduce the risks of coal ash disposal by requiring monitoring and corrective action for leaks into the groundwater and air and setting restrictions for where coal ash disposal areas could be located and how they should be designed and managed. The rule also set out recordkeeping and reporting requirements. In 2016, Congress passed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which provided enforcement authority to the states and federal government over these facilities.
In response to requests from the utility industry, the Trump Administration is proposing the first of two rules that would greatly weaken several provisions of the 2015 coal ash rule. The proposed rule would allow states to set less strict groundwater standards for certain contaminants rather than cleaning up to background levels. States would also be able to determine that remediation of spills and leaks would not be necessary in certain circumstances. Groundwater monitoring could be modified and suspended if a demonstration could be made that there is no migration of pollutants. The rule would also allow states to reduce the time currently required to monitor corrective actions and post-closure of sites.