By Hallie Carde
Red, White and Water intern, Spring 2013
This just in: in addition to fruits and veggies, our nation’s children should be getting their daily dose of coal ash. Or at least that’s what statements at a public hearing in Franklin County, Missouri, seem to suggest.
Just last week, there was a hearing for a lawsuit filed by the Labadie Environmental Organization over a zoning amendment that would allow Ameren Corp. to construct a new coal ash landfill in the heart of a floodplain. Toxicologist Dr. Lisa J.N. Bradley, testifying on behalf of Ameren Energy Corporation, said, “A child could consume coal ash every day and have no increased exposure to arsenic.”
Bradley was recently elected to the Executive Committee of the American Coal Ash Association, a lobbying organization whose membership includes Ameren, Duke Energy, Southern Company and other large coal-burning utilities. Unfortunately, it seems that conflict of interest was lost on Associate Circuit Court Judge Robert D. Schollmeyer, who dismissed the lawsuit citing Bradley’s testimony.
There are many who have had to face the traumatic effects of toxic coal ash firsthand. Following the AES Corporation’s dumping of 80,000 tons of coal ash waste along the shores of the Dominican Republic between 2003 and 2004, the country’s women have suffered years of consistent miscarriages, abnormal levels of arsenic in their blood, and births to babies with cranial deformities, external organs, and missing limbs.
While we have yet to uncover such a horrific case here in the states, concerns over coal ash are real. Archie Dixon lives just south of Belmont, N.C., where Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds are some of his closest and most unwelcome neighbors. Distrustful of the visible grime and discoloration of his water, Mr. Dixon has been buying bottled water for years, unwilling to ingest the water from his home’s private well. Despite reassurance from Duke Energy officials who say that lab tests show that the sediment in Mr. Dixon’s water is of naturally occurring materials, he refuses to take any risks with his water. Dixon is not the only member of his community concerned about coal ash.
Duke Energy’s subsidiary Progress Energy Carolinas is also serving up the next dish on the coal ash menu: a “soup of contaminants” in the French Broad River. The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Western North Carolina Alliance, issued an “Intent to Sue” for the utility’s violations of the Clean Water Act. This latest lawsuit comes on the heels of conservation groups filing a formal complaint with the NC Environmental Management Commission last October for groundwater contamination by 14 coal fired power plants.
Current state and federal laws do not require that existing coal ash be stored dry nor does it require lining for coal ash ponds, which enables the ponds’ pollutants to seep into both the French Broad and groundwater supply.
French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson is one of the loudest voices speaking out against Progress Energy’s contamination of such a beautiful natural resource. Yet as North Carolina conservationists and environmental advocates prepare to go to court in hopes of defending human and environmental health, we are left wondering where is progress on the national level?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has yet to finalize minimum federal standards that it has been sitting on for more than three years. In the meantime, there are members of Congress who would be more than happy to stop EPA from ever finalizing these guidelines.
North Dakota Senator John Hoeven’s deceptively-named “Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act” would bar the EPA from regulating this toxic substance at all. In December, a Congressional Research Service report initially found that this legislation would not ensure adequate standards for the protection of human health and the environment. Hoeven and industry supporters were fast and fierce in disputing this claim, and under political pressure, the CRS has recently stated that it will review and update its report.
Some people in power are willing to bully out the truth, making it even more important to work together against those who put industry profit before our health, and the health of neighbors and our home. We are, after all, a nation that deserves to feed on truth, not coal ash.
We hope you will join us in sending a message to our nation’s leaders that clean water is a national priority!