A coalition of environmental groups today formally asked the Department of Homeland Security, the Army Corp of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency to make public the list of 44 "high hazard" coal ash disposal sites across the country. The Freedom of Information Act request was submitted by the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, the Environmental Integrity Project, and Natural Resources Defense Council after the EPA refused to disclose which of the hundreds of coal ash sites pose such a threat to nearby communities that they have been deemed by the Obama administration to be a national security risk.
"The Department of Homeland Security has designated 44 massive coal ash piles as 'high hazard' because they present a clear and present danger to the people living near them," said Bruce Nilles, Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. "People have a right to know if mountains of toxic coal ash are threatening their communities so they can take action and put pressure on their local utilities to demand clean up."
The EPA was instructed by the Department of Homeland Security not to release information about the location of high hazard dams containing coal ash. Unspecified national security concerns were cited as the reason for withholding this critical information from the public, even though the locations of other hazardous sites, such as nuclear plants are publicly available.
"EPA was exactly right to ask utilities for information on their high risk waste disposal sites," said Lisa Evans of Earthjustice. "The nature and location of these dump sites are precisely what EPA and the public need to know -- the free flow of information will help stop the flow of toxic ash into our communities."
Coal ash sites contain harmful levels of arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxins, which can leach out slowly contaminating drinking water sources, or as in the case of the 44 "high hazard" sites, flood nearby communities with a life-threatening wave of toxic sludge as happened last year in Tennessee.
"The industry has told us for decades that coal ash is perfectly safe -- now we're told that some of their ash dumps are so dangerous, the federal government is afraid to tell us where they are. We need to move beyond this 'see no evil' approach, and regulate these unsafe practices," said Eric Schaeffer, Director of the Environmental Integrity Project.
The dangers of coal ash are yet another reminder of the need to clean up coal's toxic legacy and speed up the transition to cleaner, safer energy sources.
Last Friday at a press conference Senator Barbara Boxer disclosed that she has been muzzled and prohibited from telling the nation about the location of these 44 dangerous sites. Senator Boxer has pushed back and demanded openness. "We applaud Senator Boxer for her tireless work to protect communities from the dangers of coal ash," added Nilles.
Download copies of the requests here: