On December 22, 2008, 500 million gallons of toxic coal ash slurry buried up to 400 acres off the Tennesse River when an earthen retaining wall was breached at a Tennesee Valley Authority's coal-fired plant.
This coal ash, was the highly toxic leftovers from burning coal for fuel, contained dangerous pollutants like mercury, lead, and arsenic that can cause cancer and wreak havoc on both plant and animal life.
Since the EPA has continued let the coal industry dump coal ash into unlined ponds and landfills that leak into our rivers, streams, and recreation areas for far too long but on on May 4, 2010, the EPA issued two very different proposals for regulating coal ash. One proposal put forth by the EPA is good. The other is very bad. The first proposal would classify coal ash as a hazardous waste, which it very much is. The other would classify coal ash as non-hazardous, which would run contrary to the EPA's own findings and play right into the hands of big polluters. The EPA's choice is clear: Coal ash must be regulated as a hazardous waste immediately.
Now is the time to tell the EPA and Big Coal fat cats that Americans refuse to be poisoned by dirty energy any longer.
RCRA was enacted more than thirty years ago to monitor and control the harmful impacts of irresponsible waste disposal on our water and airsheds and our landscapes. RCRA's hazardous waste provisions under Subtitle C of the Act provide a strong oversight vehicle for the extremely toxic 150 million tons of coal ash produced in the US each year. There is no debate that coal ash is a "hazardous" waste. It is a dangerous mixture of arsenic, lead, mercury and other many other poisons. When improperly disposed of it contaminates drinking water supplies, surface waters and communities. There are thousands of these poorly managed and maintained coal ash impoundments across the country thousands of TVA coal ash disasters waiting to happen.
I also urge EPA to take a very narrow view of the "beneficial use" of coal ash. Although legitimate uses of waste materials in recycling and the manufacturing of new products is laudable and should be encouraged, the current "beneficial uses" of coal ash include activities that are little more that disguised forms of waste disposal. That was not the intent of the beneficial use provision. Whenever and wherever coal ash is being dumped as a means of waste disposal, it should be strictly regulated.
Please do what is right for the environmental and community health of this country. You have a mission "to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment -- air, water, and land -- upon which life depends." Anything short of RCRA Subtitle C regulation of coal ash waste and a very restrictive view of "beneficial use" of this highly toxic material would be an abandonment of that vital mission.