EPA: Do The Right Thing To Protect Our Communities

by Robert Gardner

November 19, 2010

The Environmental Protection Agency has closed its public comment period on the regulation of coal combustion waste, also known as coal ash. Today, we delivered over 15,000 supporter comments (thank you all very much) demanding that the EPA regulate this hazardous waste under subtitle C of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

There is complete agreement that coal ash is loaded with toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead and mercury. There are 137 documented cases of this stuff migrating out of these impoundment ponds and into the water of surrounding communities. Also, there are absolutely no federal regulations governing the safe disposal of this material nationwide.

After traveling the country, talking to members of affected communities, speaking out at EPA hearings, and bearing witness to the problem nationally, a few things have become clear.

First off, without federal regulations on coal ash, communities will continue to be threatened by corporate and public utility poisoning of our environment. Communities have been wrecked, people have been killed, and ecosystems have been destroyed. If that is not a mandate to act, I am uncertain what is.

Second, the coal industry arguments are not constrained by the truth, morality, or even a sense of decency. I have watched as people across the country have pleaded for the EPA to act to stop more cancer clusters, arsenic poisoning, mercury poisoning, and impacts to their children’s health. The people want the EPA to hold corporations accountable for the destruction of their houses, watersheds, and communities. With uncommon hubris, I have seen industry stare directly into the results of their wrongdoing and deny, defame, and discount these damages.
Third, people are rising up to take on industry. In Chicago, Charlotte, Denver and Pittsburgh, we demonstrated people power by rallying strong against industry’s lies. In Louisville, Greenpeace activists dropped a banner telling the EPA to “Protect People Not Polluters,” and we worked with great groups like Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light, and the Sierra Club to rally against the coal industry. In Knoxville, we held a vigil in support of the communities of Roane County, along with United Mountain Defense and Earthjustice. Afterwards, we rallied with students from University of Kentucky, University of Tennessee, and Warren Wilson. Together, we entered the hearing to tell the EPA to do the right thing…in full Halloween inspired costume.

We’ve worked with amazing community activists to organize resistance to polluting industry’s lies. We have been able to pull together some creative actions, lots of great organizing on the ground, and attentive online work highlighting corporate influence over these regulations. Local groups are working at a fevered pitch to protect these communities. Yet corporations continue to put profit over people.

America deserves better. Coal Ash is hazardous waste and we expect the EPA to do the right thing and pass a hazardous waste at the least. We deserve a clean energy future devoid of corporate sabotage. We can Quit Coal now, but we can’t do it alone. This movement demands action.

– Robert

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