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Spring is in the air in Washington, DC and hope seems to permeate every corner of this storied city. Along with the promise of longer days and warmer weather, there's hope that the new congress and administration can help us return to a true participatory democracy. As a member of Earthjustice's legislative team, my biggest hope is that we're witnessing the dawn of a new era when it comes to environmental policy.

The blaring headline to the San Francisco Chronicle April 3 was all about our continuing drought and upcoming water rationing. This is not exactly news -- we've been warned for months.

What I wrestle with is how to spread the hardship fairly. The remedy the utility company will impose is across-the-board reductions of 15 percent or more. No hosing down your driveway. No washing your car more than so often.

But what about us noble citizens who already conserve like crazy?

The Kansas state legislature today gave final passage to a bill authorizing massive expansion of the Sunflower coal-fired power plant -- but there is unexpected good news in the vote ... it's 10 votes short of being veto-proof in the House.

This means that the promised veto from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is more likely than ever to survive. An earlier vote in the state House had a margin of only five votes. She is expected to veto the bill next week.

On February 17, Earthjustice called on Congress to introduce and pass legislation that would fix a glaring loophole punched in the Clean Water Act during the Bush years. The Supreme Court, with Bush administration backing, held that only "navigable" waterways could enjoy protections of this law.

Two million acres of new wilderness, miles of new scenic rivers, the withdrawal of land in the Wyoming Range and elsewhere, all signed into law by President Obama (it still feels really good to type that) just in time for my birthday. The bill, a so-called omnibus, was a patchwork of nearly 170 separate bills, many of which had been kicking around for quite a while.

I only wish they had added one more: A bill to codify the Roadless Rule of 2001.

In the final witness panel, Tom Kilgore, president and CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority, said that they have posted information on their website.

But as mentioned earlier by Harriman resident Sarah McCoin, many of the residents simply don’t have ready access to the internet and to TVA’s website. Much like if a tree falls in the forest one wonders if it makes a sound, if there is information available on health impacts that doesn’t actually get to the residents who are most affected, does it really serve to protect?

Today's congressional hearing on the Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash spill from last December in Harriman, TN, started out with opening remarks from Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) who said that it’s been "nearly a decade" since this committee held oversight hearings on the Tennessee Valley Authority. She also said the committee maybe plans to continue TVA oversight now every 30 to 60 days.

Minority committee leader Rep. John Boozman from Arkansas said, "New laws will not replace homes…and family treasures," but bet they will certainly do much to make sure that others who live near these coal ash sites don't have to lose their homes or valuable family treasures and heirlooms in another preventable spill.

Rep. Lincoln Davis, whose district is where the TVA spill happened, offered strong words for the committee, saying, "My constituents and the land they live on must be made whole again."

The Republicans seem to be pushing their talking points aggressively: while this particular spill is bad, this doesn't mean coal is bad and there shouldn't be talk of stopping coal burning. It seems like they're not quite able to see the forest for the trees, and despite the nature of this hearing (to find out what went wrong and how it can be prevented) some members just can't resist a small shot at those groups fighting for a cleaner environment.

Sarah McCoin, a Harriman, TN, resident said: "Harriman is now a toxic wasteland, and we urge that guidelines and laws are in place to make sure that this never happens again... residents are scared if they are being exposed... we are a community that hunts fishes and swims in the rivers and we need to be ensured that it is safe to be in the river... Harriman is home to people who rely on the fish for their meals... too many residents are experiencing respiratory problems... we desperately need to have testing for our community to find out if our children are being poisoned…we have been neglected. There are people who have been satisfied but there are many are not."

Strong words from someone who is living in and near this tragedy. Committee is on a break now for a floor vote. More to come later.

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About the Earthjustice Blog

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.