Virtual Hearing Highlights Toxic Pollution
TENNESSEE— Impacted Tennesseans were amongst dozens of callers to US EPA yesterday during a virtual hearing to discuss proposed changes to federal coal ash regulations.
Guidance for coal ash waste was finalized in 2015 with EPA’s issuance of the Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities rule. Since then, coal-fired power plants have been forced to release to the public results from groundwater sampling tests, among other regulations.
The latest in a series of the current Administration’s efforts to roll back environmental protections for surface water, groundwater, wetlands, and endangered species, modifications to the Coal Ash Disposal Rule were subject to a public notification and comment process, which included the virtual hearing yesterday.
Many Tennesseans spoke up, including Kathy Hawes, Executive Director of Tennessee Clean Water Network.
“This rule does not diminish the coal industry, and any argument of the sort is absurd. All it does is bring accountability to polluters,” said Hawes to EPA officials.
Hawes went on to describe how the public has benefited from the data. In 2018, Environmental Integrity Project produced the report “Coal’s Poisonous Legacy,” which revealed that 91% of coal ash sites were polluting groundwater. Most notably, TVA’s Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis was sixth in the nation for arsenic pollution in groundwater around a site.
“[T]he current federal Coal Ash Rule requires TVA to monitor, disclose, and clean up its coal ash pollution at the Allen plant,” said Ward Archer, President of Memphis-based Protect our Aquifer.
If EPA’s changes take effect, however, that federal protection may disappear.
Toxic coal ash pollution affects millions of residents throughout the country. One caller from Alaska spoke about the “travesty of injustice” her family has endured from living near coal ash dumps.
Earlier this year, TVA was forced to settle a lawsuit regarding its coal ash pollution from the Gallatin power plant, and now must excavate over 12 million tons of toxic coal ash over twenty years.
Yesterday’s hearing was the second of two public hearings held to accept comments on the proposed rollback.