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Tr-Ash Talk: Riders In A Stormy Congress

The highwaymen of the 112th Congress are trying to take away the authority of the EPA and rob the will of the people on a variety of critical public health and environmental issues by attaching riders to the House budget bill (the Continuing Resolution). The spending legislation introduced by the House Appropriations Committee this week would not only slash billions of dollars from programs protecting public health by ensuring clean water and air, but it would also undo or block key environmental initiatives.

While belt-tightening is a necessity, the special interest giveaways and legislative earmarks protecting big polluters are no less than highway robbery. Their attempt to pillage vital health protections guaranteed by our federal environmental statutes threatens the quality of our air and water, and places our most vulnerable communities and citizens at great risk.

Totally indefensible are the amendments to the Continuing Resolution offered by congressmen Cliff Stearns (R-FL) and David McKinley (R-WV). Amendments 10 and 217 prohibit any funding of an EPA rulemaking that proceeds under subtitle C of RCRA. In other words, EPA cannot proceed with a rule that sets enforceable minimum standards for coal ash disposal and which requires the phase out of dangerous ash ponds.

Disguised as a budgetary item, these identical amendments go well beyond restricting spending. The riders direct the EPA to regulate according to the will of polluters and directly conflict with the public process of an ongoing rulemaking.

There is no doubt that these amendments will totally derail the EPA’s ability to move forward with the coal ash rulemaking. The amendments will render it impossible for the agency to consider the best science on the toxicity of coal ash.

The amendments will bar the EPA from considering more than 450,000 comments- many of which are from citizens living in communities contaminated by coal ash. By doing so, these amendments compromise the public process of notice and comment rulemaking, and threaten the health of communities across the country.

The amendments close off all roads but one. The EPA is left with the option of establishing guidelines for states that not mandatory and that are unenforceable by EPA. The amendments would make sure that the status quo of lax (or absent) state oversight of coal ash dumping is maintained and that polluters will have the legal right to continue to dump coal ash in unlined pits and ponds.

This is a compromise of our health on a grand scale.

The leftover waste from coal-fired power plants, coal ash contains such highly toxic pollutants as mercury, hexavalent chromium and arsenic, which are associated with cancer and other serious health effects. This toxic waste is being dumped – often unregulated – all across our country.

The overwhelming science shows that coal ash is poisoning our drinking water and the air we breathe, polluting our rivers, streams and lakes, and destroying fish and wildlife.  In addition, more than 50 poorly regulated "high hazard" dams, like the TVA dam that collapsed in Kingston, Tennessee in December 2008, precariously hold millions of tons of toxic ash above unsuspecting communities.

These two amendments by congressmen Stearns and McKinley would forbid the EPA from going forward with protections for the American public, and undermine the public rulemaking process.  In our attempt to curb the national debt, we cannot rob our country of its most valuable assets—the health of our citizens and our environment and our open and transparent rulemaking process.

The coal ash rulemaking, if allowed to proceed, would simply require commonsense safeguards- similar to those required at household garbage dumps. By imposing these reasonable requirements, lives, communities and ecosystems could be saved.

Our elected representatives must stand up to this attempted robbery and vote NO on amendments 10 and 217. The attachment of these riders to the must-move budget bill makes this an urgent request. Should the budget bill reach the president's desk with these distasteful appendages, the president may feel compelled to sign it. Please ask your representative today to protect your health and environment and to leave the decision to EPA on how to regulate toxic coal ash.