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\ I am commenting against EPA’s Coal Ash Permitting Proposal (Docket # EPA-HQ-OLEM-2019-0361). This proposal weakens the 2015 coal ash rule safeguards. It needs to be withdrawn.

\ The 2015 Coal Ash Rule safeguards are supported by sound science and common sense. Public health scientists and advocates pushed for years to establish these safeguards. The proposed rule, on the other hand, would benefit polluters. Coal powered public utilities and coal mining companies have lobbied for it since Trump was elected.

\ The EPA’s proposed rule would establish a permit program for coal ash ponds and landfills on Indian lands, territories, and in states that do not have approval to implement their own permit programs – currently all states except Oklahoma and Georgia.

\ Some of the most egregious flaws of the proposal would allow the EPA to:

  • Grant “permits for life” to all coal ash dumps, new or old, lined or unlined. Never-expiring permits are nearly unheard of for federal permitting programs.

  • Issue permits with little to no public participation.

  • Grant “one size fits all” permits for life that do not account for the highly variable risks of coal ash ponds and landfills.

  • Automatically approve permits with little or no review by the permitting agency.

  • Unlawfully allow EPA to authorize “noncompliance” with no restrictions on how long noncompliance would be tolerated or which safeguards a permittee could continue to violate.

  • Fail to take into account extensive recently collected industry data that have revealed the extent of the widespread and severe water pollution from coal ash dumps.

The EPA should be working to make Americans safer, not endanger them further by throwing protections from toxic pollution out the window. The Coal Ash Permitting Proposal will expose more Americans to hazardous pollution from coal ash, including to carcinogens like arsenic, hexavalent chromium and radium; neurotoxins like lithium and lead, and poisons that kill fish and wildlife like selenium and cadmium. The EPA needs to stop trying to gut the public health protections in the Coal Ash Rule, and instead strengthen the rule, as ordered by a federal Court of Appeals in August 2018.

Thanks to the 2015 Coal Ash Rule coal plant owners have already completed hundreds of inspections, published critical groundwater quality data, identified over a hundred sites where cleanup of contaminated groundwater must soon begin, and disclosed the identity of leaking and dangerous coal ash ponds that must close. The commonsense standards of the 2015 rule – which received more than a half-million supporting comments from the public – are helping to clean water and safeguard public health. President Trump’s attempt to weaken this rule is nothing more than a total giveaway to the coal industry. It must be rejected.

  • EPA’s duty is to protect our health and the environment from coal ash.

  • EPA’s duty is to guarantee safe water, clean air, and a healthy environment – free from toxic waste.

  • EPA’s duty is not to protect polluters and ignore the damage they inflict on our health and natural resources.

  • EPA exists to serve and protect the American public. Public participation in its rule making and permitting processes adds expertise and local knowledge that are essential to the EPA fulfilling its mandate.

This proposal (docket # EPA-HQ-OLEM-2019-0361) violates existing law and should be withdrawn.

\ General Background

Coal-fired power plants in the U.S. burn more than 800 million tons of coal every year, producing more than 110 million tons of solid waste in the form of fly ash, bottom ash, scrubber sludge and boiler slag – commonly known as coal ash. Hazardous chemicals present in coal are concentrated in the ash when coal is burned. Consequently, coal ash contains a toxic brew of carcinogens, neurotoxins, and poisons – including arsenic, boron, hexavalent chromium, lead, lithium, mercury, selenium, and radioactive substances. This toxic pollution can cause cancer, heart disease, reproductive failure, and stroke, and can inflict permanent brain damage on children.

\ When this toxic waste is dumped without proper safeguards, as occurred for decades throughout the U.S., hazardous chemicals are released into air and water, harming nearby communities and fouling water resources. Coal ash also harms aquatic life, wildlife and ecosystems. Selenium, a common coal ash contaminant is deadly to fish at very low levels, and the poison bioaccumulates in fish tissue. Extensive damage to aquatic life from coal ash contamination is well-documented.

\ The 2015 Coal Ash Rule established national minimum standards for existing and new coal ash landfills and surface impoundments including a requirement that companies test the groundwater near their dumps to make sure hazardous chemicals are not leaking into drinking water sources. Importantly, this 2015 Coal Ash Rule also required all U.S. coal plants to prevent air and water pollution from coal ash landfills, pits and piles by suppressing dust, controlling polluted run-off, conducting inspections, monitoring groundwater, and cleaning up contaminated water.

\ Much of industry’s disclosure of data has been in abstruse and non-standard formats making the data difficult to find, despite the requirement that this information be publicly accessible. Some utilities fail to post the required information entirely or conceal it behind sign-in walls to prevent search engines from locating it. Legal and technical experts from Earthjustice, the Environmental Integrity Project and partner organizations located and analyzed the data.

\ According to this data, more than 95% of coal ash disposal sites in the United States are unlined and over 90% of them are contaminating groundwater with toxins above levels the U.S. EPA considers safe for drinking water.

\ Trump’s EPA continues to finalize and propose new rules to remove the commonsense coal ash safeguards put in place in 2015. This proposal would not only allow the EPA to grant owners of coal operated electrical utilities operating permits that never expire with little-to-no oversight and minimal opportunity for public participation, it would allow the EPA to authorize “noncompliance” of existing coal ash disposal laws.