WASHINGTON –(ENEWSPF)—April 30, 2018
By: Rosemary Piser
Senator Dick Durbin joined 10 Democratic Senators today urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to not weaken the 2015 federal regulation for the safe disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCR) or “coal ash.” These standards protect drinking water, human health, and the environment. Since the rule was finalized, Congress passed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, enabling, but not requiring, states to set up permitting programs at least as protective as federal requirements for the disposal of coal ash. However in September 2017, the Trump Administration announced that it would consider revisions to the coal ash rule, and in March 2018, the EPA issued a new proposed rule.
In the letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Senator Durbin says, “We are concerned that the EPA’s proposed changes weaken the rule’s requirements. Coal ash is more toxic than typical household waste. Regulating the disposal of coal ash requires steps beyond those intended for municipal solid waste landfills to address the particular threat of coal ash to groundwater, surface water, human health, and the environment. We urge you to keep protections in place that ensure that a qualified technical professional certifies all judgements. This will ensure decisions are made with appropriate expertise to protect human health and the environment.”
In addition to Durbin, the letter was also signed by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
Coal ash contains toxic metals that can cause cancer, heart damage, lung disease, kidney disease, and birth defects and even lead to premature death. More than 130 million tons of coal ash are generated each year in the United States. Although half of the coal ash produced is reused and repurposed as either a substitute for Portland concrete or gypsum wallboard, the other half must be disposed of as waste. According to an EPA Risk Assessment, people living within one mile of unlined coal ash ponds have an elevated cancer risk.
Last week, Senators Durbin, Whitehouse, Duckworth, and Carper also pressed the EPA to extend the public comment period for proposed changes to the coal ash rule from 45 days to 90 days and to use this extra time to hold additional public hearings in affected communities, including Pittsburgh, PA; Chicago, IL; Durham NC; and Guayama, PR. The only planned public hearing on these proposed changes was held last week just outside of Washington, D.C.
Full text of the letter is available here