For once in this coal ash fight, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is doing something early. Unfortunately, what they’re doing isn’t good.
On June 21, the EPA published their two-option proposal for regulating coal ash. One option sets strong, federally enforceable safeguards for coal ash and will do much to protect public health. The other option keeps the status quo of ineffective state regulations that put the public and our environment at dangerous risk. When the EPA published these options, it said, "EPA will provide an opportunity for a public hearing on the rule upon request. Requests for a public meeting should be submitted to EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery by July 21, 2010." I added that emphasis on July 21, because that’s important.
So today, July 15, six days before the deadline to request public hearings, the EPA published the location of its public hearings. We and hundreds of other groups requested public hearings in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Tennessee (the site of the biggest coal ash disaster in history), Pittsburgh (where nearby drinking water supplies are poisoned with coal ash), Texas (which is one of the biggest coal ash producers in the country) and Atlanta (a city with a strong commitment to environmental justice; many coal ash dumps and landfills are located in low income areas and communities of color).
We got two cities we asked for (Washington, D.C. and Chicago) and a hearing in Texas, but no mention of hearings in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, or Tennessee. The EPA is not even planning on holding a hearing in the state which—until the Gulf oil spill—was the site of the biggest environmental disaster in the last two decades!!! Their reason for rushing out the locations of these hearings: they want to finalize the rule soon. Delaying on public hearings would mean a longer delay for a final rule. However, they seemed to have forgotten the six months of delay the White House imposed on EPA when they proposed a much stronger version of this rule back in October 2009!
So just to be clear, it’s ok to delay an important rulemaking when you need to spend more than 30 meetings with big polluters and lobbyists from the coal and power industries, but it’s not ok to delay a rule when it comes to listening to the communities whose lives are affected by coal ash pollution?