Front Porch Blog

Did A Steamed Bun Ask the White House To Label Coal Ash As Non-Hazardous?

Last week, we escaped another harrowing attempt by Rep. David McKinley (WV) and company to allow coal-fired utilities to keep getting away with polluting our water (and sometimes air) with coal ash, the toxic byproduct of burning coal for electricity.

While a rider to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from issuing federal standards on coal ash disposal and storage did not make it into the Transportation bill, McKinley is far from throwing in the towel.

In an E&E article about the Transportation bill (reposted on WNCA’s website), McKinley declared, “We’re not finished. I can say that. We’re not finished.”

While opponents of stronger protections on coal ash are not done trying to stop the EPA from issuing final rules, they also aren’t done telling blatant untruths….

Headwaters Recycling CEO Kirk Benson in a video interview with E&E Publishing makes a number of false claims. For example, he says that the McKinley provision is essentially the same as the EPA proposal.

What the language that’s in the conference committee does is it takes all of the learning that the EPA has created over the last two years, it creates a national standard that is protective of the environment and human health. And so it’s basically adopting what the EPA has learned and putting it into a permit program that will greatly improve the standards around the disposal of fly ash.

This is absolutely, 100%, false, false, false, as in NOT TRUE. While public interest groups have known this from the beginning, the Congressional Research Service recently came out with a report comparing EPA’s proposals (there are two) with the current bill language, the report concludes:

“If a state did choose to apply the permit program specifications (in the legislation) to CCR (coal combustion waste, or coal ash) landfills and surface impoundments, the provisions included under the Minimum Requirements and Revised Criteria in the legislation) would be significantly different from those identified by EPA as necessary to address the risks associated with improper CCR disposal.”

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Was This The Big Steamed Bun That Petitioned The White House on Coal Ash?

Not only do those who would continue the dangerous status quo of no comprehensive safeguards on coal ash just lie about the details of legislation, they also are working to create the impression of a false grassroots movement in favor of weak coal ash standards.

The astro-turf group, cleverly named, “Citizens for Recycling First,” submitted a petition to the White House in late 2011 to “protect coal ash recycling by promptly enacting disposal regulations that do NOT designate coal ash a ‘hazardous waste.”  In just one month, the petition had more than 5,400 signatures, enough to require an official White House response.

However, Environmental Integrity Project commissioned an analysis of several hundred Chinese signatures that appeared on the petition, revealing them to be computer-generated fakes. Some of the names, when translated were Big Steamed Bun, Yellow Tiger, and Most Handsome Guy. Unfortunately, while these anti-clean water groups are busy creating fake names, coal ash continues to affect real people.

UPDATE: Rachel Maddow covered this issue. Here is the clip:

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In this backdrop, the revelation on just how bad the problems associated with coal ash dumps continue to grow. Due to a Freedom of Information Act request by Earthjustice and EIP, the EPA revealed that there are 450 more coal ash ponds than they previously thought, bring the total up to over 1160. 46% of all of these ponds (531 ponds) are totally unlined and while 562 ponds DO have some sort of liner, there is no information as to what type. A composite liner is the only type to help keep dangerous levels of heavy metals and other contaminants from leaching into groundwater.  

However, there are small rays of hope. Senator Jay Rockefeller from West Virginia, who in the past has been a fervent defender of the coal industry, is starting to change his tune, similar to the turnaround we witnessed in late WV Senator Robert Byrd. Rockefeller made an impassioned speech about the future of coal.

Here is an excerpt:

Coal company operators deny that we need to do anything to address climate change despite the established scientific consensus and mounting national desire for a cleaner, healthier environment.

Despite the barrage of ads, the EPA alone is not going to make or break coal. There are many forces exerting pressure and that agency is just one of them. Coal operators would like to think that that’s the case — environmental protections are a great target and its much easier to criticize than to do something.

During the ongoing debate on the Transportation bill, Rockefeller in a Politico Pro article (paid subscription req’d)

He spoke of how the mercury in the coal ash causes damage, including lowering the IQ of fetuses.

“The health effects are stupendously awful. Nobody ever talks about it,” he said.

While Rockefeller has also said that he does not support the stronger of the EPA’s two proposals, it is a huge step in the right direction.

Stop the Shenanigans with our Clean Water!

While the news on coal ash can range from sad to absurd to hopeful, the one thing we cannot stop doing is to build a movement to protect our clean water. There are lot of powerful interests who want to use our waterways as dumping grounds for their pollution, or at least who don’t want to pay any consequences if they do pollute OUR water with their waste. Please help grow the movement- talk to your friends, share this on Facebook and join the movement at Red, White and Water.




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  1. Kevin Lord on July 7, 2012 at 4:19 am

    Excellent news and videos, filled with great talking points. I was unaware that the coal plants being referred to were already scheduled for mothballing anyway. Typical twisting of the tale by those with the money to false advertise. I’ll be quoting and sharing these works around.

    Good Job and Thank You to all involved!!

    We really need to get their mess cleaned up, bad.
    I’ve flown over using Google Satellite Map, I am so sad for your people and wildlife.
    It makes me angry that photos of this destruction are not on the News every night.
    The destruction looks unforgivable to me.

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