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Groups Call on Senate to Let Coal Ash Protections Stand

The proposed bill would gut environmental protection and harm communities

Coal ash is the waste that remains when coal is burned in power plants to generate electricity.

Nenad Zivkovic/Shutterstock
February 25, 2016
Washington, D.C. —

Environmental, health, tribes and community groups, in a letter to the Chairman and Ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, called on senators to oppose S. 2446, a bill that would strip important health, safety and environmental protections established by the first-ever coal ash rule, which is already in effect. The EPW Committee is scheduled to hold a legislative hearing on S.2446 on March 2, 2016.

"The bill greatly increases the potential for harm to communities in the United States and its territories by amending the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to remove critical and long-awaited safeguards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on December 19, 2014 in their final coal ash rule," the letter states.

More than 120 groups and North Carolina state legislators signed the letter, including Earthjustice, Diné Care, Clean Wisconsin, Ohio Citizen Action, James River Association, Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice, and the League of Conservation Voters.

They argue that the problematic bill would, in part, eliminate the following: the requirement to immediately clean up all toxic releases from coal ash and notify the public; the rule’s national standard for drinking water protection and cleanup of coal ash contaminated sites; the rule’s nationwide protective standards and allow each state to set different standards for disposal.

Coal ash is the remnants of coal burned in power plants to generate electricity.

Quote: Earthjustice Senior Legislative Representative Andrea Delgado said the proposed bill would cause irreparable harm to communities if passed. "Given recent coal ash spills and contamination that has fouled drinking water for families across North Carolina, what this bill is trying to do is unconscionable," Delgado said. "If a toxic spill occurs, there will be no requirement to notify the public and immediately clean up toxic releases. It’s a cloak of secrecy and delay for utilities and it’s irresponsible."

"This bill wants to leave the public in the dark about water contamination and the safety of dangerous coal ash dams, an issue that would disproportionately impact low-income and minority communities where most coal ash dams are located," added Delgado.

Background: Coal ash regulations were proposed in 2010 following the largest toxic waste spill in U.S. history in Kingston, Tenn., when one billion gallons of coal ash sludge destroyed 300 acres and dozens of homes. But in response to pressure from the coal power industry, EPA delayed finalizing the proposed rule. In 2012, Earthjustice sued EPA in federal court on behalf of 10 public interest groups and an Indian tribe to obtain a court-ordered deadline that resulted in a first-ever final rule on coal ash. Important protections from air and water pollution achieved by the coal ash rule began to take effect in October 19, 2015.


Keith Rushing, Earthjustice, (202) 797-5236

Andrea Delgado, Earthjustice, (202) 797-5240