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Tr-Ash Talk: Living With Lies and Coal Ash

It’s inspiring to see the commitment of Rep. David McKinley’s constituents living in the shadow of First Energy’s behemoth 1,000-acre Little Blue Run waste dump continuing to speak the truth amid the lies flaunted by corporate interests. Steve and Annette Rhodes, life-long residents of West Virginia, describe the stark and unfortunate reality of living near a toxic coal ash dump and debunk the many falsehoods spouted by Rep. McKinley in their recent piece in The Hill, Rep McKinley We Live Here with the Coal Ash. They are also quite clear that the coal ash amendment (Title V of HR 4348) pushed by Rep. McKinley is an overzealous attempt to jam a controversial public health loophole into an unrelated transportation bill.

Rep. McKinley is a broken record when it comes to citing flawed industry reports and ignoring the public health and environmental impacts of his dangerous provision. He consistently turns a blind eye to repeated private and public requests for relief from his constituents who live in the shadows of the largest toxic coal ash pond in the U.S. His constituents have testified before Congress, been quoted in the WV press, national press and elsewhere complaining of contaminated water flowing onto their properties, noxious odors and tainted soil.

Chester, WV, where the Rhodes live, borders Little Blue Run. The dump holds approximately 20 billion gallons of toxic sludge and is held back by a 400-foot earthen dam—the tallest of its kind in the U.S. It straddles the border between West Virginia and Pennsylvania and looms over Ohio. It’s rated a high hazard dam by EPA and is expected to kill upwards of 50,000 people in Ohio if it were to fail. According to the EPA, contaminated water from Little Blue Run has been dousing properties at a volume equal to seven fire hoses and arsenic has been migrating into Marks Run, a local stream.

Little Blue Run is the largest coal ash pond in the US. It straddles the border between West Virginia and Pennsylvania and looms over Ohio. The coal ash dump is 1000 acres, holds approximately 20 billion gallons of toxic sludge and is held back by a 400-foot earthen dam—the tallest of its kind in the U.S.

The article highlights that Rep McKinley's dangerous provision has been connected to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Not only is ALEC pushing coal ash legislation that is very similar to Rep. McKinley’s bill, the group has been doing corporate legislative bidding on everything from Stand Your Ground to voter suppression laws.

The Rhodes also point out that Rep McKinley is misleading the public about the content and intent of his legislation. Despite his false claims, his amendment does not set federal minimum safeguards for coal ash disposal and will “forever prohibit the EPA from ever providing such protections, even if the threat to public health increases.”

The Rhodes’ piece underscores the danger of not having federal coal ash protections. As demonstrated by their situation, states like West Virginia aren’t protecting their citizens from this toxic threat. Thankfully, the Administration and conferee Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) are publicly opposing Rep. McKinley’s legislation.

Former Republican Congressman and current Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood states that the Administration opposes this amendment because it “undermines the federal government’s ability to ensure that requirements for management and disposal of coal combustion residuals are protective of human health and the environment.” Sen. Rockefeller has stated, “coal ash and two other environmental provisions were added to the otherwise empty House highway bill in order to create controversy, not to solve problems.”

The transportation package should be about creating American jobs, not placing families like Steve and Annette's indefinitely at great risk.

See a photo slideshow of Little Blue Run and the people who live near it.

I’d like to thank Lisa Graves-Marcucci and Lisa Widawsky Hallowell at the Environmental Integrity Project for their assistance with this post.

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