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
25 May 2011, 12:15 PM
At only 15 cents a ton, toxic coal ash “disappears” quickly in Puerto Rico

The arrogance and disregard for public health of the Virginia-based power giant, AES Corporation, is stunning. In 2002, AES, one of the world’s largest power companies, built a coal-fired power plant in Guayama, Puerto Rico without a solid waste landfill of any kind. Although the 450-MW power plant churns out almost 400,000 tons of toxic coal ash a year, AES has nowhere to safely dispose of the waste. Yet the situation is apparently working out just fine for AES.

From 2003 to 2004, the plant loaded its waste on 10,000-ton barges and sailed for the Dominican Republic. In the DR, AES dumped an estimated 80,000 tons of coal ash along beaches in the port towns of Arroyo Barill and Manzanillo, under the guise of future port “renovations.”  After the ash sat on the beaches for about two years, blowing into a nearby village, the Dominican Republic sued AES in federal court for $80 million in damages and stopped the dumping. In 2009, a civil action was filed against AES, alleging severe birth defects were caused by the coal ash contamination.

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18 May 2011, 10:32 AM
Nearly a quarter of coal ash ponds assessed receive poor safety ratings
Coal ash storage in Tennessee

Yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released final assessment reports that detail the structural integrity of 38 coal ash dams.  The agency began inspecting coal ash dams in May 2009, and EPA contractors have, to date, completed assessments of 228 dams.  Of these 228 coal ash dams, EPA inspectors gave a rating of “poor” to 55 dams, about 24 percent of the total inspected.  Nine “poor” rated dams were identified yesterday in Alabama, Colorado, Louisiana and Texas. 

These 55 poor-rated dams could kill people, devastate communities and cause substantial economic and environmental damage should they fail.  The EPA explicitly tells us this.  Of these 55 dams containing millions of gallons of metal-laden sludge, nine are high hazard dams, meaning that if breached, they would likely take human life and 39 were significant hazard dams, defined as dams that would cause substantial economic and environmental harm if they failed. 

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29 April 2011, 12:01 PM
Jobs do matter to the EPA

Several House members and right-wing bloggers believed they struck gold after House members indulged in a bit of chicanery at an April 15th Environment and Energy subcommittee hearing on a bill to remove EPA’s authority to establish strong coal ash regulations. The ruse started when Rep. Cory Gardner (R, CO) excerpted a single sentence from a 242-page Regulatory Impact Analysis prepared by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on its proposed rule to regulate disposal of coal ash.  

The excerpted sentence was displayed prominently on the hearing room monitor.  It read:

This [Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA)] does not include either qualitative or quantitative estimation of the potential effects of the proposed rule on economic productivity, economic growth, employment, job creation, or international economic competitiveness.

It was a “gotcha” moment for the Republican majority members present.  “EPA admits jobs don’t matter” was the story that immediately went viral. The problem is that the sound bites were nonsense. 

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27 April 2011, 1:29 PM
Coal ash rule: MIA or POW?

News that the EPA may delay the coal ash rule until the end of 2012 or even 2013 will come as a bitter disappointment to communities across the United States. Many had faith in Administrator Jackson’s promise that this Administration would finally issue effective controls on toxic ash disposal in 2010.

The regulation of coal ash is already 30 years overdue. In 1976, Congress was cognizant of the threat to health, environment and drinking water from toxic waste, and it mandated that EPA regulate the disposal of both solid and hazardous wastes. In the years that followed, EPA proceeded to regulate hundreds of dangerous waste streams. Nevertheless, powerful interests have kept the regulation of coal ash at bay. In doing so, however, the electric utility industry has created monsters they cannot control—as seen in the release of over a billion gallons of toxic sludge from just one of hundreds of impoundments hanging above communities across the nation.

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28 March 2011, 10:52 AM
EPA helped utilities shed millions of tons of waste, but EPA doesn't know where
The EPA’s free pass to large-scale coal ash dumping has undoubtedly placed communities in harm’s way.

The verdict is in. the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency turned a blind eye to coal ash reuse during the Bush Administration, and, in fact, the agency went a considerable way toward promoting reuses that were dangerous to human health and the environment. 

After a nine-month investigation, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General concluded that the EPA failed to follow accepted practices, which were laid out clearly in the EPA’s own guidelines, to determine the risks posed by the reuse of coal ash in 15 categories of “beneficial use.” Instead, the EPA for years promoted untested, and often dangerous, reuse of coal ash through a partnership with industry initiated during the Bush Administration.

In October 2010, the OIG’s “early warning” report directed the EPA to shut down the promotional website that provided a virtual stamp of approval for such reuse. Now, last week’s OIG report provides greater detail concerning the extent of the EPA’s failure to address potential risks from reuse of coal ash. 

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14 March 2011, 8:40 AM
From nukes to coal ash: regulators must distinguish fact from fiction
Coal ash flood in Tennessee

“We all have a responsibility to ensure that the American people have facts and the truth in front of them, particularly when fictions are pushed by special interests with an investment in the outcome.”  - EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in testimony before Congress on March 10 in response to false claims by Republicans and special interest groups concerning the reach and impact of proposed regulations.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) railed at a recent Congressional hearing about EPA regulations that treat spilled milk on dairy farms like spilled oil.  The fact that this is plainly false did not stop him from saying it, nor Rep. Morgan Griffith (R- VA) from spreading the lie in a newsletter to his constituents, nor did it deter the Wall Street Journal from publishing the editorial that started the rumor. The fact that dairy industry representatives supported the EPA apparently carried little weight or news value.

Big lies are popular currency on Capital Hill.  Another circulating in Congress is that federal regulation of coal ash will “kill” all beneficial reuse of ash, that the reliability of the electric grid is threatened by a coal ash rule, and that the cost of safely disposing of coal ash is too high for coal-burning power plants or consumers to bear.

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08 March 2011, 11:28 AM
19 Congressmen oppose a rule designed to save the lives of their constituents

When members of the House of Representatives return to their districts for April recess, many should be called to task for supporting a budget rider that would kill a coal ash rulemaking designed to protect the health, homes and livelihood of their constituents.

How, for example, can one explain the voting record of most of the 25 congressmen whose districts host 49 high hazard coal ash dams  - those impoundments of toxic waste that, by definition, are likely to take human lives if they break?

In a rational world, every one of those members would support an EPA rulemaking that requires the phase-out of these deadly impoundments and the conversion to recycling systems and safer dry disposal. But 16 Republicans and three Democratic congressmen in a dozen states whose districts host at least one, and sometimes several, high hazard ponds, voted for a rider that prevents EPA from requiring such a phase-out.

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02 March 2011, 5:45 AM
When regulators and polluters forget the lessons of Tennessee
Tennessee coal ash spill

If you live in Indiana, it’s best not to live below one of the state’s 53 coal ash dams.

The state’s laissez-fare attitude toward these deadly structures has created a potentially disastrous public hazard. Recent dam breaks in Indianapolis should have sounded the alarm, but apparently it takes more than 30 million gallons of toxic waste to get the state’s attention. Even a failing report card last month from EPA inspectors hardly raised an eyebrow.  The colossal collapse in 2008 of TVA’s high hazard dam in Harriman, Tennessee is apparently a distant memory in the Hoosier State.

But forgetting this lesson may place thousands in harm’s way.

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23 February 2011, 7:29 AM
The House’s rabid attack on EPA authority to regulate coal ash
Rep. David McKinley's amendment ties the EPA’s hands on the issue of coal ash—and sweetens the bottom line of industry.

Early Saturday morning, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment to the House budget bill that had nothing to do with trimming the federal deficit, but everything to do with sweetening the bottom line of the likes of Duke Energy, AEP, Ameren and Southern Company.

The House passed this amendment at about two in the morning (when few were watching), This amendment, offered by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), would “prohibit the use of funds by EPA to develop, propose, finalize, implement, administer, or enforce any regulation that identifies or lists fossil fuel combustion waste as hazardous waste subject to regulation.” In short, the amendment would tie EPA’s hands on the issue of coal ash in the middle of its ongoing rulemaking. The only avenue left open to EPA by this amendment would be publication of unenforceable “guidelines” that states would have absolutely no obligation to adopt. 

The amendment would prevent EPA from setting enforceable national standards, thus guaranteeing that power plants in the dirtiest coal-burning states, such as Texas, Indiana, Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio, would continue to dump ash and sludge in unlined pits and ponds that threaten the communities nearby (and below) their enormous toxic dump sites.

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16 February 2011, 7:53 AM
Theft of protections against toxic coal ash is on House agenda
Aerial view of coal spill in Kingston, Tennessee

The highwaymen of the 112th Congress are trying to take away the authority of the EPA and rob the will of the people on a variety of critical public health and environmental issues by attaching riders to the House budget bill (the Continuing Resolution). The spending legislation introduced by the House Appropriations Committee this week would not only slash billions of dollars from programs protecting public health by ensuring clean water and air, but it would also undo or block key environmental initiatives.

While belt-tightening is a necessity, the special interest giveaways and legislative earmarks protecting big polluters are no less than highway robbery. Their attempt to pillage vital health protections guaranteed by our federal environmental statutes threatens the quality of our air and water, and places our most vulnerable communities and citizens at great risk.

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