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Tr-Ash Talk

(Russ Maddox is an Alaska Chapter Sierra Club volunteer.)

As the rest of the nation wakes up and begins to realize how damaging wanton handling and disposal of coal ash truly is, regulators and leaders in Alaska continue to keep their heads buried in the sand, or in this case, coal ash.

The forests of Alaska’s interior fueled the early gold rush. When they became scarce the railroad was pushed south to the coal fields of Nenana to fuel the steamships, massive dredges necessary to access and extract the gold.

Across the country, communities near retiring coal plants are breathing collective sighs of relief. Closures, however, raise vexing questions about the millions of tons of toxic waste that may lie beneath the surface. Over decades, most plants have buried battleship-sized deposits of coal ash in landfills and lagoons near their plants. In the absence of federal mandates, utilities may leave behind a leaking legacy of deadly pollution, even after the belching stacks are long gone.

On Tuesday, Virginia attorney Ted G. Yoakam, representing nearly 400 people living near the Battlefield Golf Club in Chesapeake, refiled a lawsuit against Dominion Virginian Power, MJM Golf LLC (the owner of the golf course) and two additional parties involved in building the course, requesting more than $2 billion in damages. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been sitting on a proposed coal ash standard for nearly 15 months. Without environmental standards for protection from this toxic waste, 54 residents of Perry County, AL had little recourse but to file a civil rights complaint alleging discrimination against the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), citing them in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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