EPA Hearings on Classifying Coal Ash as Toxic Waste

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By Joe Starkey | October 1, 2010

The Environmental Protection Agency is having hearings across the United States to determine if the ash from burning coal should be classified as toxic waste. A group from Sweetwater, Abilene and the surrounding area went to the hearing in Dallas to encourage the EPA to do so. They were accompanied by a group of students from Abilene Christian University that is studying government and the environment. We left on a chartered bus a little before 7 AM on September 8th and arrived at the hotel in Dallas where the hearing took place late morning. The hearings had started at 9 AM and people from Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma were present to testify that coal ash is toxic and presents a hazard to the public. Big Coal had flown people in from all over the United States to testify against the classification of coal ash as toxic waste. I heard about 300 people give their three minutes worth on the subject. {{more}}Those for classifying coal ash as toxic waste discussed the scientific facts that the ash contains mercury, arsenic, lead and many other toxins. Studies are showing that the ash pits of coal plants are more of a radioactive hazard than a nuclear power plant. This ash is being used in many products that expose the public toTexas State Representative speaks against Coal Plants. Photo by Joe Starkeythe toxins on a daily basis such as wallboard and other gypsum products. It is also being stored in open pits both dry and slurry pits Mr. Hal Stewart supports Sub Title C and stated that those he represents “could fill this ballroom, this hotel, all the ballrooms in Dallas and still have people waiting that have tried to get the TEQC to stop companies in Texas from polluting and they are still bleeding.” A black man from Arkansas told the panel that communities of color in Arkansas are drinking contaminated water but don’t have the money for lawyers. “They don’t deserve to suffer just because they have no money.” Mr. Mark Peters said the coal plants are imposed on “the less many by the more many”. If the Tenaska Trailblazer plant was being built in or near Dallas – there would 2000 people here against the plant just from Dallas Dr Jeff Hasseltine. Photo by Joe Starkeyinstead of the 200 from all over the Southwest. Dr. Jeff Hasseltine of Abilene stated that man needs to stop defiling their own nest. Even worse is our problem where Tenaska is not fouling their nest in Omaha, Nebraska but is coming to the Big Country to foul our nest. Mr. Jeff Cox added that it is wrong to trade our health for a Big Coal company’s wealth. Reverend Smith represented 45 ministers of all faiths and presented the opinion that regulations should not be done for short term profits over the welfare of the world. “Careful stewardship of God’s creations should be our goal.” A professor of environmental law and consequences asked the panel why laws already on the books listing mercury, lead, arsenic and others as toxic do not automatically make any substances containing these toxins also come under the toxic substances regulations. Many of the speakers wanted to change the indirect costs of coal to direct costs that are paid upfront by the coal companies and are then includedDr Jeff Cox. Photo by Joe Starkeyin the electric bill so the public sees the full cost each time they pay their power bills and can make other choices. Mark Torres of the Dallas Outdoor Recreation Club told the panel that use of drywall containing mercury and other toxins in construction equals pollution. So why did the EPA say this use did not expose the public to hazards? He then expressed his opinion that whoever wrote that for the EPA was a total idiot.Those asking to have coal ash regulated as toxic waste had major concerns: 1. the use of coal ash containing toxins in construction of our homes and offices needs to stop until we are sure that this is not the “new asbestos and lead based paint” of the 21st century. 2. Tenaska plans to store their fly ash in open pits in the head of the Big Country’s water shed and this will contaminate the drinking water for most of the cities in the area. 3. Why should any company be allowed to store a toxic substance in a manner that will result in the use of their neighbors’ land as a toxic waste dump.The testimony of those against regulating coal ash as toxic never defended toxic effects but instead talked about profits like the owner of Separation Technologies when he said “I’m here to protect my job and my family and those of my associates. Don’t regulate coal ash because the stigma would hurt my business.” Most of the Tom Smith of Public Citizenanti regulation speakers read from a prepared statement and most used almost identical phrasing. One panel member remarked during a break that it was almost as if the statements were written by the same person or group as they are very precise in making the same points. I personally don’t remember a single anti regulation speaker that did not ask the panel “not to put this stigma” on the industry. They often stumbled over the language and phrasing as if it was not their normal speech. Most went overtime to complete their written testimony. One person afterward remarked that the Coal people were willing to spend the public’s health to gain their business more wealth. Eva Hernandez of Sierra Club and Ryan Rittenhouse of Public Citizen watch the Vigil. Photo by Joe Starkey