Has Rep. David McKinley had a change of heart? In a letter dated March 8, 2012, the primary author of EPA- bashing HR 2273 and best friend of coal ash, McKinley (R, WV) wrote Secretary Randy Huffman, head of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, to request that he accompany him on a visit to Chester, WV, at the southeastern edge of the massive Little Blue Run coal ash pond. The goal of the urgent request is to assess the effectiveness of a new pumping system, which was designed to address the leaks in the pond that have plagued Chester residents for years.
The Little Blue Run coal ash pond is the largest in the nation, spanning two states and bordering a third, covering approximately 1,000 acres (over 1.5 square miles), and held back by a 40-story high hazard dam. The pond is 30 times larger than the TVA pond at the Kingston Fossil Plant, which burst in December 2008 and flooded 300 acres with 1 billion gallons of toxic sludge. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection estimates that a failure of the Little Blue dam would take the lives of 50,000 people.
It is undoubtedly frightening for Chester residents to live with gushing leaks from the side of Little Blue- leaks that culminate in a discharge clocked at a maximum of 775 gallons per minute, a volume greater than the combined flow from seven fire truck hoses. The ground and basements of homes on the West Virginia side of the impoundment are inundated with coal ash-contaminated water. First Energy, the owner of the coal ash pond, recently installed a new pumping system, but problems persist.
Thus, the congressman asked for the WVDEP’s “urgent attention.” It’s about time. Almost a year ago, Chester resident Curt Havens testified before a Congressional Subcommittee on a bill written by Rep. McKinley. The bill would remove the EPA’s authority to regulate coal ash and block national standards to phase out deadly ponds like Little Blue.
At last April’s hearing, Havens described how the toxic ash impoundment was gushing water contaminated with cadmium, a cancer-causing metal, near his home. He also explained to Rep. McKinley and the subcommittee that he had thyroid cancer and his wife has thyroid disease—illnesses caused by cadmium exposure.
The matter is certainly urgent. We look forward to the presence of Rep. McKinley and Secretary Huffman—to view the leaks and to answer questions from those living daily with this needless threat to their health, community and livelihood.