Front Porch Blog

Highlights from the Southeast Coal Ash Summit

The power of the environmental justice movement is rooted in our ability to band together and engage a broad base of support. This past weekend, more than 80 citizens convened for the first ever Southeast Coal Ash Summit in Atlanta, Ga. Appalachian Voices, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Southern Environmental Law Center, and NC Conservation Network were sponsoring organizations for the weekend event.

The summit was our chance to unite the diverse and dedicated groups fighting coal ash pollution and defending our right to clean water in the Southeast. The outcome: a greater sense of our power as advocates, organizers, community leaders, and change agents. Here are a few highlights that best encapsulate the summit’s energy and accomplishments:

The network of organizations working to stop coal ash contamination has grown over the last few years and we’ve got a spectacular website showcasing our work. is a public clearinghouse on coal plants with ash ponds, health and environmental impacts from ash pollution, news related to coal ash, and action opportunities to strengthen the movement for clean water. Check it out and see if there are any ash ponds near you!

Coal Ash Stories Panel - (left to right) - Joan Walker (Southern Alliance for Clean Energy), Rhiannon Fionn-Bowman (Coal Ash Chronicles), Donna Welch (impacted resident of Juliette, GA), Brian Adams (Attorney at Gautreax & Adams)

Coal Ash Stories Panel – (left to right) – Joan Walker (Southern Alliance for Clean Energy), Rhiannon Fionn-Bowman (Coal Ash Chronicles), Donna Welch (impacted resident of Juliette, GA), Brian Adams (Attorney at Gautreax & Adams)

For many of us, the stories shared by impacted residents are the main motivators for environmental justice campaigns. Several citizens who live near ash ponds and work with residents spoke during the conference. Each one spoke to the health impacts, landscape degradation and evidence of water contamination from nearby coal ash disposal sites.

Donna Welch from Georgia recounted her years of poor health and constant doctor visits. No one could diagnose the cause for her extensive list of symptoms until she had the family’s well water tested. At that time, their water had the second highest levels of heavy metals in the state: 21 times the legal safe limit for uranium and radon. She urged her neighbors to test their water. More residents found unsafe levels of heavy metals. Her perseverance and the community’s diligence led to to a lawsuit against Georgia Power for coal ash pollution from Plant Scherer. They’ve built a strong case against the plant’s unlined, leaky 750-acre coal ash impoundment nearby and we hope to hear of another win for clean water.

Coal Ash Chronicles – A Film by Rhiannon Fionn from Coal Ash Chronicles on Vimeo.

Visual media lends the power of story-telling beyond words or phrases. One effort to communicate the real story of coal ash and the human experience stood out at the summit. Rhiannon Fionn-Bowman’s Coal Ash Chronicles is still in the filming stages, but the documentary’s impact can already be felt across the country. At the summit we watched the documentary trailer and listened to Rhiannon’s journey into investigative journalism and now film-making. The film speaks for itself, watch it here and contribute to the film-making process here.

We have a lot of work ahead of us before the right regulations are enacted to control coal ash contamination in the Southeast and across the U.S. But many hands make light work, and our weekend spent collaborating, sharing resources, and celebrating victories is a sure sign that together we’ll kick coal ash out of our water for good.





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