Appalachian Voices was on the scene of the Dan River coal ash disaster almost immediately after it was first reported, taking samples, documenting the incident, and coordinating with local groups and citizens.
In December, 2008, a massive dam at a coal-fired power plant in Tennessee burst, releasing 1 billion gallons of liquefied coal ash that destroyed two dozen homes, poisoned 300 acres of land, and clogged the Emory River with toxic sludge.
The catastrophe drew national attention to a danger that until then had been largely out of sight. Every year, power companies have to dispose of 120 million tons of waste left over from the burning of coal. Most often, they mix it with water to form a sludge that is then stored behind earthen dams in huge impoundments, mostly unlined. Not only do these coal ash ponds pose a physical hazard, such as happened in Tennessee, they also have been proven to contaminate drinking water, as well as lakes, rivers and streams with heavy metals including arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium and chromium.
Yet, the federal government has no rules or regulations for the disposal of coal ash, and most states manage it with fewer restrictions than household garbage. The Southeast is particularly vulnerable, with our vast water resources, lax regulations, and almost 450 coal ash ponds with a capacity to hold more than 118 billion gallons of coal ash. That’s the equivalent of 306,000 football fields filled with a foot-thick layer of sludge.
After the Tennessee tragedy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency committed to establishing a national rule for the storage and disposal of coal ash. The agency proposed two options under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which deals with the disposal of waste. One option would regulate coal ash as hazardous waste, the other would regulate it under the same rules similar to household waste. Appalachian Voices is one of several plaintiff organizations who filed suit in 2012 to compel the EPA to take final action.
Along with many partner groups and thousands of citizens, Appalachian Voices is pressing for the stronger option of treating coal ash as the hazardous waste that it is. The coal industry and its political allies, however, are fighting fiercely to keep coal ash virtually unregulated.
In fact, some in Congress are pushing to strip EPA of its authority to ever finalize the coal ash rule, and have managed to pass several bills through various committees and the House of Representatives.
But Appalachians and other Americans know the value of clean water for their health, their families, and their communities. Citizens are coming together to fight for protection of their waterways and public safety, and we’ve been successful so far in holding our ground on the worst threats to our clean water laws.
Please join our growing movement today – sign the Red, White & Water pledge to get the latest updates and alerts for when it’s time for you to take action.