Coal Ash Stories Come to Washington

Federal coal ash protections are due in December, provided Congress doesn't get in the way. Citizens arrived in Washington to tell their coal ash stories.

The devastating TVA Kingston coal ash spill of 2008.
The aftermath of the devastating TVA Kingston coal ash spill of 2008. (Dot Griffith / Appalachian Voice via United Mountain Defense)

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It was standing room only, today, in a stately meeting room in the U.S. Capitol building as Senate staffers and a group of citizens gathered for a briefing about the hazards of toxic coal ash waste. Earthjustice and the Sierra Club organized the briefing in an effort to educate elected officials and their staff on the importance of keeping off the Senate floor any legislation that would prevent the EPA from regulating this toxic waste.

We’ve been here before. No fewer than six times over the last four years have House and Senate members tried to subvert EPA regulations on coal ash. Time and again, they’ve introduced standalone legislation or added riders to unrelated bills that would prevent the EPA from ever regulating coal ash. In 2010 the agency proposed the first-ever rules that would protect communities near these sites; they have languished since. It took a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of 10 local and national public health and environmental groups and one Native American tribe to force the EPA to set a deadline of Dec. 19 to finalize these rules. Today’s briefing was an opportunity to let the Senate know that they should not allow any effort to stop this important public health move.

Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center (who has been often quoted in the news recently, for obvious reasons) moderated a panel that included Dr. Alan Lockwood, Emeritus Professor of Neurology and Nuclear Medicine at the University at Buffalo; Lori Goodman, treasurer and co-founder of Dine CARE; Randy Ellis, a Roane County resident who serves on the Roane County Commission representing Harriman, Tennessee, the site of the 2008 TVA Kingston coal ash disaster; and Wallace McRae, a third-generation rancher and cowboy poet who owns and operates a 30,0000-acre cattle ranch in Forsyth, Montana.

Traveling from across the country, the speakers represented the health, environmental and political impacts of coal ash contamination. In Tennessee, a coal ash disaster changed a community forever. In Montana, coal ash contaminating a watershed is killing cattle and destroying a way of life. In New Mexico, 55 million tons of coal ash stored in unlined pits poisons the waters and lives of a nearby Navajo community. Across the country, coal ash dust is increasing asthma attacks and damaging our lungs.

These citizens came to Washington, D.C. to tell their stories to their elected officials and the decision makers who hold the key to coal ash protections. Let’s hope they’re listening.

Jared was the head coach of Earthjustice's advocacy campaign team from 2004 to 2014.

Established in 1989, Earthjustice's Policy & Legislation team works with champions in Congress to craft legislation that supports and extends our legal gains.