Tuesday, August 31, 2010

EPA Holds First Public Hearing on Coal Ash Proposal

On Monday, August 30th, the Environmental Protection Agency held its first public hearing on a proposal to address risks of unsafe coal ash disposal. The EPA is proposing an unprecedented national rule to ensure the safe disposal and management of coal ash from coal-fired power plants. Students from George Mason, Virginia Tech, and University of Maryland joined hundreds of other citizens at the hearing in Arlington, VA to deliver statements in support of strict regulation of this hazardous waste.

Coal is dirty from mining to burning. Coal ash, a byproduct of the combustion of coal at power plants contains contaminants such as mercury, cadmium and arsenic, which are associated with cancer and various other serious health effects. Coal ash is disposed of in liquid form at large surface impoundments and in solid form at landfills. The dangers associated with structurally unsafe coal ash impoundments came to national attention in 2008 when an impoundment holding disposed waste ash broke open, creating a massive spill in Kingston that covered millions of cubic yards of land and river. The spill displaced residents, required hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs and caused widespread environmental damage.

In testimony at the hearing, GMU student Emily Miles criticized the coal industry for “continually putting profits over people”. She urged the EPA to regulate the coal industry to limit their destruction. “As a concerned citizen, I am here today to tell the EPA to do its job and protect people and the environment.” Kara Dodson, a student at Virginia Tech working on their Beyond Coal Campaign, described the negative health effects that coal ash from her campus’ coal-fired power plant has on students. Jason Von Kundra, an earth science major at Mason, delivered a statement urging the EPA to put stricter regulation on the coal industry to embrace the “clean energy economy that our country and our president are calling for”.

Six more hearing on the proposed rule to address coal ash are scheduled for September. Public comments may also be submitted by email to rcra-docket@epa.gov and should be identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-RCRA-2009-0640.