It’s Groundhog Day in the House of Representatives. Once again, coal company allies are leading a charge to pass a symbolic vote that would reinforce their disdain for any plans to clean up coal ash ponds and landfills with federal minimum safeguards. But the symbolism has real-world impacts: nearly 200 coal ash sites have already contaminated nearby lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers with dangerous chemicals that cause cancer, organ damage and even death.
Representatives will vote on an arcane Motion to Instruct, which tells the 47 members of the House and Senate who are on the conference committee for a massive transportation bill package to include a bad amendment on coal ash. That amendment snuffs out any possibility for the EPA to set federal regulations for safe coal ash disposal and was attached to the version of the transportation bill the House passed last month.
More than 130 groups sent a letter opposing the amendment. Rather than federal coal ash regulations, the amendment would transfer coal ash cleanup to state jurisdiction, and they have a dismal record at best of containing coal ash pollution (see Kingston, TN).
Despite being home to the biggest coal ash dump site in the country, Rep. David McKinley has carried the torch for Big Coal and introduced legislation that passed the House and stalled in the Senate, and which is identical to the amendment to the transportation bill. No surprise that Rep. McKinley was the one who introduced that amendment.
You may remember other blog posts about Congress’ efforts to kill coal ash protections. This Congress has an ideological pursuit to end any federal environmental protections that force dirty industries to clean up their act. Any members of Congress who vote in favor of including the coal ash amendment in the transportation bill are making a bold statement: they are putting the interests of the polluters ahead of the health of Americans. It’s a sad sight and a reprehensible act, and one that will not be forgotten.
Known* cases of coal ash contamination and spills:
Contaminated Site and Spill
View Map Data
* These cases of documented water contamination are likely to be only a small percentage of the coal ash-contaminated sites in the U.S. Most coal ash landfills and ponds do not conduct monitoring, so the majority of water contamination goes undetected. According to U.S. EPA, there are over 1,000 operating coal ash landfills and ponds and many hundreds of "retired" coal ash disposal sites.