As state legislators work to craft a plan to address the future use and disposal of coal ash, a group of congressmen is pushing the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to enact stricter standards and enforcement of the toxic substance.
Congressmen G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) and David Price (NC-04) write in a letter released to the media Wednesday that the EPA must finalize “strong federal standards for the safe disposal of coal ash under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) by the end of 2014.”
Here’s an excerpt from their letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy:
Major coal ash spills in 2014 into the Dan River in North Carolina and in 2008 in Kingston, Tennessee are examples of full impoundment failures and show that our constituents must be better protected. Both spills originated from wet coal ash impoundments located near power plants adjacent to rivers where the failure of impoundment walls sent harmful chemicals directly into the waterways. The Dan River spill caused coal ash to travel 70 miles downstream and the Kingston spill caused more than one billion gallons of coal ash to enter the water supply and destroyed residential communities. The EPA has evaluated wet coal ash impoundments across the country and found more than 300 sites which would endanger human life, or cause significant economic, environmental, or infrastructure damage if full failures occurred.
Far more common than full impoundment failure is the slow leaching of coal ash contaminants from wet impoundments into ground and surface waters. The majority of wet impoundments across the country lack adequate liners and groundwater monitoring systems. The EPA has identified more than 200 cases of water contamination from coal ash in 27 states.
It appears we are only now beginning to see the alarming truth about coal ash in our communities. It is troubling that it has taken large coal ash spills like those in North Carolina and Tennessee to mobilize stakeholders to engage in a frank dialogue about its dangers and propose changes to mitigate those hazards. Those catastrophes could have been avoided and we owe it to all Americans to put the necessary safeguards in place to ensure similar disasters do not occur in the future.
The letter is cosigned by 83 members of Congress.
Earlier today at the NC General Assembly, the Senate Appropriations committee gave its approval to Senate Bill 729, the state’s plan for managing coal ash.