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Messed Up in Michigan

Clean Water Fund’s new report, Toxic Trash Exposed: Coal Ash Pollution in Michigan, reveals widespread damage from coal ash dumping in Michigan. The report discloses dozens of waterways and aquifers already poisoned and warns of statewide harm due to failure to impose reasonable safeguards on toxic dumping.

Clean Water Action released Toxic Trash Exposed on the second anniversary of the immense coal ash spill at the We Energies power plant in Oak Creek, WI, where 25,000 tons of coal ash spilled onto the lakeshore and into Lake Michigan. No one was hurt, but large boxcars tumbled like matchbox trucks in the melee. It could have killed anyone in its path.

Such disasters could occur along Michigan’s shore as well, because no regulations prohibit dangerous dumping. Even in the absence of a violent disaster, toxic pollutants seep into Lake Michigan and the state’s rivers, streams and aquifers from scores of unlined lagoons and landfills. Poisoned water will continue to swell in Michigan until polluters are required to contain the millions of tons of toxic waste they excrete. Toxic Trash Exposed sounds this warning loud and clear.

Fortunately, change is on the way. Public health protection received a huge boost from the U.S. District Court last week when the court issued a decision in the lawsuit brought by Earthjustice to secure a national coal ash rule. On Oct. 29, the court ordered the EPA to submit a schedule to complete its coal ash rulemaking, which will set federal disposal standards for toxic ash. The EPA must submit a schedule within 60 days.

Despite this precedential ruling, there is trouble ahead. Last July, the House passed a bill that would permanently prohibit EPA from regulating coal ash. A similar bill in the Senate is imminent. Passage of this bill by Congress would be a disaster whose consequences would be felt in Michigan and the rest of the nation for decades to come in the form of poisoned water, toxic dust and more hazardous spills.

There is only one solution: Michigan’s senators must recognize the clear threat to public health in their own backyard and defend EPA’s authority to require polluters to safely dispose of their toxic waste. Senators Levin and Stabenow must heed the warnings of this report and ensure that Michigan residents and their invaluable water resources are protected.

Map of coal ash storage sites in Michigan.

Map of coal ash storage sites in Michigan. (Courtesy of Clean Water Action)
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