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Tr-Ash Talk: Gearing Up for a Nasty Coal Ash Vote

East Tennessee is not known for its population of environmental activists, but last fall hundreds of people turned up in Knoxville to ask the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adopt a special waste designation for coal ash. Support for EPA’s public health and environmental safeguard is strong here because the 2008 Kingston coal ash disaster occurred in our backyard, making the danger of toxic coal ash blatantly clear.

Experts at the EPA have now spent years reviewing data related to the dangers of coal ash, and they have listened to the opinions and ideas of citizens, including those here in East Tennessee.  Shockingly, even while the EPA reviews the opinions of hundreds of thousands of citizens, anti-environmental crusaders in the United States House of Representatives are preparing to undermine these voices as well as the expertise of the EPA.

Next week the House of Representatives is preparing to vote on H.R. 2273, a bill that would prohibit comprehensive federal oversight of coal ash. H.R. 2273 is a gift to coal companies at the expense of public health and the environment.

As reported by the Environmental Integrity Project, bill sponsor Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) received more than $185,000 in donations from coal companies this year. McKinley and five other supporters of H.R. 2273 on the Energy and Commerce Committee received a total of over $433,000 from coal interests alone.

Rep. McKinley’s gift to industry would prohibit the EPA from designating coal ash as a hazardous waste. Instead, the bill would simply allow—not require—states to develop plans for coal ash management, which amounts to doing nothing new, because states are already fully permitted to regulate coal ash if they choose.

A recent Earthjustice report, State of Failure, shows that the vast majority of states are not interested in properly regulating coal ash (and many of the worst of those states are here in the Southeast). There is no reason that H.R. 2273 would change that do-nothing attitude, and in fact it would limit critical EPA authority on a massive stream of toxic waste, a pollution problem that is national in scope.

The EPA follows a thorough process for developing and vetting rules. That process gives the public a voice—including those in East Tennessee who are still suffering from the Kingston disaster—and the process is based in scientific and economic analysis. People like Congressman McKinley are willing to sell out the public, ignore science and completely undermine the EPA’s process in order to make their financial backers happy.

As we approach the third anniversary of the Kingston coal ash disaster, we cannot forget the terrible consequences of poor coal ash management on our waterways and communities. Each and every member of the U.S. House will have an opportunity to vote on H.R. 2273. So, we need to contact our members of Congress and remind them about this threat. We need to make sure our members of Congress know that a vote for H.R. 2273 is a vote to undermine the voices of 450,000 citizens as well as EPA’s public process and expertise. Worse, a vote for H.R. 2273 is a vote to ignore the lessons of the Kingston disaster.

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.