The transportation conference committee, comprised of members from both the House of Representatives and Senate, is working to iron out a deal on a massive transportation bill designed to fund and maintain America’s highways, mass transit infrastructure and two million American jobs. The Senate version was a meaningful bipartisan compromise. Unfortunately, what the version passed by the House lacked in transportation policy, it made up for in unrelated controversial “riders.” These riders would prohibit the EPA from ever regulating toxic coal ash dump sites, eviscerate public participation-oriented environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on complex transportation projects, and automatically permit the Keystone XL pipeline.
In 2008, one billion gallons of toxic coal ash spilled from the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant. (TVA)
In a letter to Senate conferees from 14 states, 140 groups from those states joined together to ask the Senate to reject these corporate giveaways, particularly the coal ash provision, and pass a clean transportation bill. Focusing on the coal ash provision, the letter states:
“Without national disposal standards, this voluminous waste will continue to be dumped in immense unlined ponds, like the one that collapsed in Kingston, Tennessee, and in unlined landfills,” the groups wrote. “The nation’s hundreds of coal ash ponds are subject to life-threatening catastrophic spills, and both ponds and landfills routinely poison drinking water sources when their cargo of toxic chemicals leaks into underlying groundwater.”
A copy of the letter is available at: http://earthjustice.org/documents/letter/pdf/letter-opposing-coal-ash-amendment-in-transportation-bill
The Senate passed a clean bill earlier this year, and the current extension passed by the House is set to expire June 30.
“Unfortunately, as frequently as corporate lapdogs repeat that ‘coal ash is like dirt,’ scientifically that’s not the case. It’s just another blatantly false industry talking point,” said Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans. “The Senate rose above such nonsense and pulled together a transportation bill that focuses on creating meaningful transportation policy and helping fix the economy. The Senate understood that the transportation bill is about protecting American jobs, not poisoning American communities. The coal ash amendment passed by the House will put Americans in thousands of communities at risk from exposure to toxic chemicals like arsenic, hexavalent chromium and lead. These communities don’t need more poison; they need more jobs and a cleaner future.”
“Improper disposal of coal ash poses serious threats to health,” said Barb Gottlieb of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “In fact, those risks are so severe that 840 health professionals from Physicians for Social Responsibility recently signed a letter urging President Obama to release health-protective, enforceable national standards for safe coal ash disposal. Congress should let the EPA do its job and protect us from this toxic threat, rather than undermining evidence-based science and the health of the American people.”
“Coal ash is simply too toxic not to have federally enforceable standards,” said Jennifer Peters, Clean Water Action Water Campaigns Coordinator. “Congress should let EPA do its job, not create a legal loophole that benefits power plant utilities at the expense of public health. This disparate rider has nothing to do with transportation and allows utilities to continue dumping toxic waste into unlined ponds and landfills without enforceable safeguards to prevent ground or surface water contamination.”
“Low income communities and communities of color have historically been the reluctant hosts to polluting industries,” said Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director of UPROSE in Brooklyn, NY. “It saddens us that the narrow air passages of our children and the lungs of our elders must also house the waste from coal-fired powered plants.”
“The transportation bill is critical legislation that will save and create 2.9 million American jobs and shouldn’t be a vehicle for politicians to tack on irrelevant riders that let big polluters run over the health and well-being of our communities,” said Melinda Pierce, Legislative Director at the Sierra Club. “Rep. McKinley’s reckless amendment is a giveaway to Big Coal that would treat coal ash—a known carcinogen—as less harmful than household trash, while doing nothing to prevent another disaster like the one that devastated Kingston, Tennessee in 2008. McKinley’s legislation is another in a long line of attacks from House leadership on the health of our environment and our families.”
“The coal ash rider industry wants to attach to the transportation bill is designed to keep polluters from having to clean up contaminated ash dumps,” said Eric Schaeffer, of Environmental Integrity Project. “Let’s hope Congress has the good sense to reject this special interest lobbying.”
Emily Enderle, Earthjustice, (202) 745-5201
Lisa Evans, Earthjustice, (781) 631-4119
Barb Gottlieb, Physicians for Social Responsibility, (202) 587-5225
Jennifer Peters, Clean Water Action, (202) 895-0420, ext.105
Elizabeth Yeampierre, Esq., UPROSE, (718) 492-9307
Dalal Aboulhosn, Sierra Club, (202) 675-6278
Eric Schaeffer, Environmental Integrity Project, (202) 296-8800
Anna Lucas, Western Organization of Resource Councils, (406) 252-9672
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.