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coal ash

One year ago in this column, I called on Environmental Protection Agency chief Stephen Johnson to resign for letting politics, not science, guide his agency's decisions. Nor was I alone—10,000 EPA employees were in open revolt for the same reason. Johnson was defying the Supreme Court's ruling that his agency should move forward on climate change and was refusing to approve California's forward-looking controls on climate-altering pollution.

Yesterday—10 weeks after a billion-gallon spill of coal ash in Tennessee—two U.S. senators challenged the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate disposal and storage of the toxic sludge.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Thomas Carper (D-DE) submitted a resolution requesting rules "as quickly as possible" and calling on the Tennessee Valley Authority to "be a national leader in technological innovation, low-cost power and environmental stewardship." On Dec. 22, about 1 billion gallons of coal ash burst through a dam at the Tennessee Valley Authority site in Harriman, flooding more than 300 acres with toxic levels of arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium and boron.

Communities have been exposed to the toxic substance, which presents a cancer risk nine times greater than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Yet coal ash is severely under-regulated and exempt from safeguards required of even municipal waste landfills. Earthjustice is calling on the EPA to eventually prohibit the storage of wet coal ash sludge and instead, mandate dry disposal in monitored landfills or safe recycling of the material.

Earthjustice Press Secretary Kathleen Sutcliffe provides this report on the grave threats posed by toxic coal ash produced at our nation's coal-fired power plants, and the quick action taken by Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans after recent coal ash spills

Quick quiz, readers.

The byproduct of coal-fired power plants is:

a) the nation’s second largest industrial waste stream;

b) chock full of arsenic, lead, and other toxins;

c) unregulated by federal waste laws; or

d) all of the above

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