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Groups Across U.S. Unite Against Coal Ash Bill

Seeking protection from unsafe dumping practices, more than 300 public interest groups from 43 states, representing millions across the nation, sent a letter this week to the U.S. Senate opposing S. 3512, the “Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act of 2012.”

The bill, introduced last July by Sens. Hoeven (R-SD), Conrad (D-SD) and Baucus (D- MT), prevents the EPA from finalizing its proposed coal ash rule—or ever issuing regulations for the nation’see second largest industrial waste stream. In its place, S. 3512 encourages inadequate state programs that preserve the status quo and extend the lives of hundreds of leaking toxic dumps.

Americans across the nation are hurt by coal ash, as evidenced by the broad coalition of local, state and regional public interest groups that signed the letter. Coal-burning utilities churn out 140 million tons of toxic coal ash each year, containing millions of pounds of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and more. From Florida to Alaska, Montana to Puerto Rico, hundreds of communities are damaged and threatened by coal ash as their water is poisoned by leaking dumps and their air made unhealthy by blowing ash.

One such community is Colstrip, Montana where coal ash ponds at the PPL Colstrip Plant poured poison into the drinking water for decades and sickened the local community. Thanks to generous loopholes for utilities in S. 3512, the bill will not stop the contamination. Fourth-generation Montana rancher, Clint McCrae, whose ranch is in the path of the poison plume stated:

This threat is real, and even as the EPA moves slowly to enact federal safeguards, some people in Congress want to make sure those safeguards never happen at all.

In the absence of EPA action, corporate pandering in Washington has grown like a cancer. In previous posts, we observed the link between coal ash and the workings of the ultra-conservative, corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, which supports state and federal legislation that prioritizes corporate interests at the expense of public health and safety. In 2010, ALEC adopted a resolution that specifically opposed EPA’s regulation of coal ash disposal and advocated for a system of weaker state laws. They could have penned S. 3512.

This week’s letter voices a distinctly different view. Many of the 300 signatories represent communities who live near ash dumps, are threatened by contaminated water and air, and fear the collapse of enormous and dangerous coal ash ponds. The voices hail from every corner of the country, from the Moapa Band of Paiutes in Nevada to the coalfields of West Virginia to urban Illinois. In an op-ed addressing a similar measure tacked onto the transportation bill last June, Congressman Bobby Rush and Dr. Robert Bullard, Dean at Texas Southern University’ Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs asked:

How many more contaminated sites and how much more racial injustice will be perpetuated before all communities are finally protected from this waste? Congress needs to … let the Administration get on with the important business of protecting communities from toxic coal ash.

A vote on S. 3512 will likely come before year’s end. We will find out then whom our senators are listening to—the lobbyists who whisper in their ears or the millions of voices loud and clear in this important public letter.