Lisa Evans's Blog Posts

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Lisa Evans's blog

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Everyone has The Right To Breathe clean air. Watch a video featuring Earthjustice Attorney Jim Pew and two Pennsylvanians—Marti Blake and Martin Garrigan—who know firsthand what it means to live in the shadow of a coal plant's smokestack, breathing in daily lungfuls of toxic air for more than two decades.

Coal Ash Contaminates Our Lives. Coal ash is the hazardous waste that remains after coal is burned. Dumped into unlined ponds or mines, the toxins readily leach into drinking water supplies. Watch the video above and take action to support federally enforceable safeguards for coal ash disposal.


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.

Lisa Evans is Senior Administrative Counsel for Policy and Legislation at Earthjustice. She specializes in hazardous waste law and is an expert on coal ash, a toxic byproduct of burning coal. Lisa's desire to practice environmental law comes from her appreciation of fresh air, magnificent landscapes, the earth's beauty and the belief that every person has the right to enjoy a healthy environment—and hopefully a beautiful and untrammeled one as well. Originally from Milwaukee, she misses the friendly, kind and open Midwestern approach to life (though not the Midwest itself). When not working, traveling or writing books (she's authored six so far), Lisa enjoys hiking, spending time with family and friends, and kayaking.

View Lisa Evans's blog posts
28 November 2012, 1:16 PM
Lawmakers are leading nation to environmental cliff
More than a hundred million gallons of coal ash slurry were released when a coal ash dam failed, flooding Buffalo Creek Valley in West Virginia.

In the aftermath of a major catastrophe, lawmakers and regulators should be held accountable to create new safety protocols to avert future disasters. Incidents like the Cuyahoga River catching fire and the Exxon Valdez oil spill prompted changes in how we protect our nation’s waters from industrial chemicals. The Buffalo Creek disaster in West Virginia in 1972 likewise prompted changes to the regulation of dams storing toxic materials. Similarly, we must demand changes to how coal ash is handled, following the largest toxic waste spill in our nation’s history—the spill in Kingston, Tennessee in December 2008, which will have its fourth anniversary in a few weeks.

Former Director of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy Jack Spadaro remembers the Buffalo Creek disaster and knows that its grim legacy still casts a shadow today.

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20 September 2012, 9:14 AM
H.R. 3409’s all-out assault on bedrock environmental protections
H.R. 3409 contains five of the most-anti-environmental bills previously passed by a House distinguished by its radical anti-health anti-science bias.

There’s no doubt that this House of Representatives has amassed the most anti-environmental record in history. According to the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the House voted more than 300 times “to block environmental regulations, weaken environmental laws, and stop environmental research” since January 2011.

In a very, very bad year, the “single worst anti-environmental bill” introduced by the House hits the floor this Friday. Officially (but ironically) titled “Stop the War on Coal Act,” H.R. 3409 actually represents the House leadership’s own elaborate and well-funded war on longstanding protections of clean air and water enjoyed by all Americans. In the guise of saving King Coal, Rep. Upton (R-MI) leads a charge up Capitol Hill to shred the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, enthusiastically eviscerating health and environmental safeguards.

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14 September 2012, 11:27 AM
Legislation would prevent EPA from protecting Americans

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.

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05 September 2012, 2:45 PM
American taxpayers pay billions for lost fish and wildlife
Undoubtedly coal ash ponds are harmful to both our economy and ecology. (EST)

Each year millions of gallons of toxic chemicals flow into lakes, streams, rivers and bays from our nation’s “surface impoundments”—often referred to as “coal ash” ponds. The well-documented result is the death and mutation of fish and wildlife. Recently, two senior scientists examined the damage from those ponds and put a price on their immense harm.

Their article, published last month in Environmental Science and Technology, describes the devastating damage and the high economic cost that is passed onto taxpayers. This article is timely as S.3512, a new coal ash bill in the Senate, threatens to prolong the life of these toxic vats by prohibiting the EPA from finalizing a rule that would require their phase out and put an end to this harmful dumping practice. The peer-reviewed report was completed by A. Dennis Lemly, Ph.D. of the U.S. Forest Service and Joseph Skorupa, Ph.D. of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The scientists conducted a comprehensive review of environmental damage at coal ash ponds since 1967 and found:

  • $2.3 billion in past damage to fish and wildlife over the last 45 years from coal ash impoundments.
  • $3.85 billion in projected damage from coal ash ponds over the next 50 years.
  • $4.82 billion to $7.17 billion potentially saved—simply by protecting fish and wildlife—over the next five decades if coal ash ponds are phased out.
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28 August 2012, 3:14 PM
But disastrous Senate bill would let utilities off the hook
Kingston, TN coal ash spill.

In a stunning victory for victims of the 2008 Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash disaster, a federal judge in Knoxville, Tennessee ruled that TVA is responsible for damages caused by the massive spill.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan ruled that TVA’s decisions concerning the location and design of the Kingston Fossil Plant’s enormous, six-story coal ash pond, including the practice of repeated vertical expansions and faulty maintenance, led to the failure of the dam. The dam burst Dec. 22, 2008, releasing more than 1 billion gallons of toxic sludge that destroyed or damaged dozens of homes and buried 300 acres of the surrounding area.

Nearly four years after the disaster, the finding of negligence allows the claims from 800 affected property owners to finally move ahead against TVA

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02 August 2012, 2:16 PM
Despite appearances, the new bill is an attack on public health
This bill is worse than no action at all. (Henri Motte)

Today, Sens. Hoeven (R-SD), Conrad (D-SD) and Baucus (D-MT) introduced a new coal ash bill, the “Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act”  This is an amended version of the disastrous vehicle  filed last October by Conrad and Hoeven. The improvements, however, are marginal, and most are nothing more than window dressing.  The 43-page bill contains some of the right words, but nothing in the bill will provide genuine protection for communities whose health and safety is threatened by coal ash. Clearly, the coal industry has largely gotten what they asked for.

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30 July 2012, 9:09 AM
Are the fires dying down or is the season just starting?
Coal ash spill into Lake Michigan from legacy site at We Energy, Oak Creek, WI (Oct 2011).

Summer on Capitol Hill has been a hot one—especially for coal ash. The 11th hour removal of a devastating coal ash provision tacked onto the federal transportation bill  gave hope to thousands of communities that Congress would not turn its on public health and the environment. When the smoke cleared and President Obama signed a transportation bill without the coal ash provision, those threatened by contaminated air and water breathed a sigh of relief—among them the Moapa Tribe of Paiutes in Nevada; ranchers and residents in Colstrip, Montana; communities in West Virginia and Pennsylvania; and residents along the floodplains of the Missouri River.

The transportation bill was a near fatal blow to EPA’s authority to regulate coal ash, and those who launched the fight vowed to return. In fact, Rep. David McKinley vowed defiantly, “We’re not finished.” Undoubtedly, Rep. McKinley will be back to push his bill for his friends in the coal industry. But who else is included in this ominous “we”? Following the transportation bill negotiations, rumors suggest a Senate bill is currently circulating that picks up where McKinley left off. With only days to the end of the summer legislative session, we may see the new bill as early as this week.

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05 July 2012, 11:58 AM
Josh Galperin on growing threat of toxic waste
Devastation following the Kingston coal ash disaster

(Note from Lisa Evans: Last week, we nearly lost the battle for Environmental Protection Agency regulations. However, thanks to the chorus of voices from affected communities and public interest groups across the nation and to the amazing work of our champions in the House and Senate, a provision blocking an EPA coal ash rule was removed from the federal transportation bill.  Here is a wrap-up of the close fight by Josh Galperin, Policy Analyst and Research Attorney for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Josh reminds us that -- contrary to what the coal industry would have us believe -- more (coal ash dumps) cannot equal less (regulation).)

Last week brought a lot of news about coal ash in national media, some good, some bad. On one side we learned of new information from the EPA to add to the growing mountain of evidence about the risks of unregulated coal ash (that’s bad). On the other side we pulled out a narrow victory in Washington, DC by keeping dangerous coal ash language out of the federal Transportation Bill (phew, that’s good!).

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21 June 2012, 2:42 PM
EPA's delay in issuing a final coal ash rule is jeopardizing its very authority

Although the EPA’s proposed coal ash rule was published two years ago, a final rule is nowhere in sight. Two years is more than enough time for the EPA to decide on a set of reasonable, health-protective standards for the country’s second largest industrial waste.

The EPA blames the delay on 450,000 public comments. However, the EPA considered more than 900,000 comments on the Mercury Air Toxics Standard (MATS) in less than a year. Given its ability to process double the number of comments in half the time, it appears that the EPA is burying a public health standard for political reasons. Throughout this delay we’ve seen a torrent of lobbyists and elected officials riding a flood of industry money, sailing in repeatedly to try to finish the EPA’s jobs.

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20 April 2012, 10:54 AM
House panders to Big Coal, allowing risks of spills and poisoning
A cloud of highly toxic coal ash is seen blowing like a sandstorm straight at the homes on the Moapa River Reservation, one of many communities across the country at risk from unregulated coal ash dump sites. (Photo by Moapa Band of Paiutes)

The House’s embrace of David McKinley’s (R-WV) amendment and its attachment to the transportation bill is nothing short of a deadly betrayal of public health. This measure ensures that the nation’s dangerous and leaking coal ash ponds and landfills will continue to operate indefinitely without regulation or federal oversight. If it passes the Senate, it may be the most effective protection of Big Coal ever enacted by Congress.

Clearly such protection is at the expense of thousands of communities where toxic coal ash is dumped into drinking water, stacked high above towns, and blown into the lungs of children. The House has conveniently forgotten the largest toxic waste spill in U.S. history, which occurred in 2008 when a coal ash pond collapsed onto a riverside town in Kingston, TN, sweeping away houses and permanently destroying a community.

Instead of addressing the nationwide problem, the House amendment prevents the EPA from regulating coal ash and setting minimum standards for safe disposal. As a result, disposal of banana peels and other household trash would be more stringently regulated in the U.S. than the dumping of toxic ash.