Tuesday’s standing room only coal ash hearings in Charlotte, N.C. were nothing less than encouraging. As a fresh addition to Appalachian Voices, it was a learning experience for me on all things “coal ash.” Citizens from all walks of life stood up to testify against the harmful effects of the improper disposal of coal ash in the environment.
Close to fifteen members, staff and board from Appalachian Voices accompanied our Watauga Riverkeeper, Donna Lisenby, to Charlotte to participate in the process.
The topic of the hearing was the U.S. EPA’s upcoming vote on subtitle C, which will treat coal ash as hazardous waste and provide federal regulations of the byproduct, and subtitle D, which will allow coal ash to be titled as non-hazardous waste and leave disposal decisions up to individual states.
“I don’t think our lives are worth any less. We are not worthless. I want the EPA to see this,” said Elisa Young, a subtitle C supporter from Ohio. Young’s case is unique because she lives on the Ohio River, the border between West Virginia and her home state.
If Ohio has one set of regulations and West Virginia has another, it doesn’t matter who is dumping waste into the river. It all pollutes the same communities. “Coal ash doesn’t have a border. There are over 20 power plants along the Ohio River- no matter what you end up with a vulnerable community,” continued Young. For Young, there is no option. Subtitle C- federal regulation- is the only solution.
Some of my favorite moments came from the humor that good people can find in life’s toughest situations. First, there was the frog lady.
“Frogs are the canaries in the coal mines,” said Teri Therian. As an artist and student of frogs, she told the crowd that 1/3 of the world’s frogs are threatened with extinction and coal ash is one of the main reasons. She challenged coal company executives and decision makers in support of subtitle D to move to an area within 10 miles of a coal ash pond, but immediately surmised that would never happen.
Then, there was the old hippie carpenter, who has had less than 4 weeks of work in the past year. With gusto he told the EPA officials, “I don’t care if I work another day on this planet if it means destroying it.” His statement was likely in response to subtitle D supporters’ argument that labeling coal ash as hazardous would eventually lead to job loss in the coal ash recycling industry.
The wide variety of supporters who showed up to speak was the most impressive part of the hearing. In the early morning were the environmentalists, activists and other people who could take the time out of work. In the evening, the families and other citizens affected by the harmful effects of improper coal ash disposal stole the show. They held out the longest and they closed the hearing.
Many of the stories were sad, but the determination in the peoples’ voices and eyes, as well as the courage it took to share their lives with the EPA was beyond inspirational. All in all, it was a successful hearing for subtitle C supporters and a significant learning experience for me.
As of last week, an additional hearing had been set in Knoxville, Tenn., less than an hour away from the Kingston Fossil Plant’s tragic coal ash disaster, which devastated the Clinch and Emory rivers in December, 2008.