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Here, there, everywhere - Communities call on EPA to strengthen coal ash rule to protect the people

This week Mariel joined activists from YUCCA (Youth United for Climate Crisis Action), Lisa Evans from Earthjustice, the Climate Justice Alliance, and others from across the United States in Chicago to testify at the Environmental Protection Agency's public hearing on planned Coal Combustion Residual (CCR) rules, also known as "coal ash." Community representatives were united in their call to close loopholes in the proposed regulations to prevent further foreseeable harm to frontline communities that have borne the brunt of our dependence on dirty coal energy for decades. Activists reported on coal ash deposited directly into waterways, crumbling depositories situated directly adjacent to Lake Michigan and deaths and cancers directly resulting from coal ash spills that the government failed to prevent.

From Indiana, to Nevada, to Georgia, to Alabama, to Michigan, to New Mexico, to Arizona, here, there, everywhere, the dirty legacy of coal threatens harm for generations.

The rulemaking, itself the result of a consent decree issued when the EPA was sued for failure to protect downstream communities, fills some loopholes, but falls short by:

  • Excluding many dried up coal ash ponds that no longer contain water, and many old ash landfills.

  • Failing to address dangerous coal ash ponds and landfills situated in floodplains where climate change has increased the risk of groundwater contamination.

  • Failing to include offsite construction sites where, incredibly, coal ash has been used as filler at playgrounds, schools, and in residential areas, and

  • Failing to include clear and transparent enforcement mechanisms and penalties to ensure compliance.

  • Failing to include ALL toxic coal ash sites across the country regardless of where and when they were created.

Unfortunately Chili Yazzie, our friend, community advocate, farmer and grandfather from Shiprock had his flight cancelled, but Mariel joined Ennedith Lopez from YUCCA to highlight the impact of coal ash on indigenous communities in New Mexico, where 59 million tons of coal ash threaten the water and health of people downstream from the shuttered San Juan Generating Station and coal mine. Ennedith spoke eloquently, telling the EPA:

Failure to isolate toxic coal ash waste from water WILL result in leaching of contaminants, which will degrade water quality and negatively impact the environment and public health. Consistent with the medical reports of health impacts, these chemicals cause cancer, respiratory illnesses, and birth defects. We know this will happen. This is a foreseeable disaster. You can PREVENT this from happening. It is urgent that you, the EPA, do your part by completing the job of strengthening the coal ash waste disposal regulations to include ALL toxic coal ash sites across the country, regardless of where and when they were created. We call on you to exercise proactive community protection, especially for those vulnerable communities living downstream from legacy pollution. We cannot trust the corporations to clean up their mess – they have been the irresponsible actors who have poisoned the Earth for 50 years or more. We need you to hold the corporate polluters accountable. They cannot be allowed to walk away.

At the Four Corners Coal Plant, still providing power to New Mexico, we know that Arizona Public Service Company discharges an average daily volume of 4.2 million gallons of wastewater into the No Name Wash, which eventually migrates into the San Juan River. This is an ongoing threat today. Eighty-nine million tons of CCR has been generated at the plant and disposed either on-site or in the adjacent Navajo Mine. Inadequate handling, storage and disposal of this immense volume of waste has resulted in contamination of New Mexico’s water resources. This is a dangerous situation for the Indigenous people that rely on the San Juan River for their agriculture and for drinking water.

There are 566 coal ash dump sites in 40 states that are currently excluded from EPA regulations — almost half the total coal ash sites in the U.S. Meanwhile as of December 2022, the world’s largest coal companies had reached profits in excess of $97 billion.

These companies must not get away with weakening federal regulations, once again, while the frontline communities who have borne the brunt of coal industry pollution continue to face the risk of illness and death from the toxic legacy of coal! Add your voice to ours by submitting your own comment.



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