Sending Office: Honorable David E. Price
Sent By:
Emily.Richardson@mail.house.gov

Tell EPA Acting Administrator Wheeler: Defend Protections in the 2015 Coal Ash Rule

Deadline: COB, July 11th, 2018

Current Signers (16): Connolly, Grijalva, Polis, Lowenthal, Jayapal, Huffman, Quigley, Capuano, McNerney, McCollum, Beyer, Soto, Adam Smith, Cartwright, Krishnamoorthi, Lieu

Endorsing Organizations: Sierra Club, NRDC, Earthjustice, Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC)

 

Dear Colleague,

I invite you to join me in sending a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler urging him to reverse his decision to revise the 2015 Coal Ash Rule, which established the first consistent set of federal regulations
for the safe and appropriate disposal of coal combustion residuals (coal ash) from electric utilities and power producers. This decision ignores years of robust scientific assessment and stakeholder input, represents a severe threat to human health and the
environment across the country, and undermines public input by issuing an only 45-day comment period.

Coal ash poses significant dangers to our communities: scientific studies show that hazardous chemicals found in coal ash, including mercury, lead, chromium, arsenic, selenium, and boron, can lead to devastating health conditions such as nervous system damage,
development issues in children, risk of cancer, increased instances of asthma, and other complications. Consistent and strong regulations regarding the disposal of such harmful materials is necessary to ensure the American public is adequately protected.

The proposed changes suggest that certain requirements in the 2015 rule, such as public access to critical information regarding cleanup and closure plans, plans for controlling fugitive dust, inspection reports, and the results of groundwater monitoring,
will be removed, thereby eliminating an important element of transparency for communities in close proximity to coal power plants that are most likely to be affected by coal ash. While the 2015 Coal Ash Rule is not perfect, it represents a critical first step
to safeguard public health and the environment from dangerous coal ash pollutants. As we have learned from the tragic incidents at the Kingston Fossil Plant (Tennessee) in 2008 and Duke Energy’s coal plant (North Carolina) in 2014, current regulations are
simply not enough to fully protect the public. We need in place robust rules that ensure consistent disposal and monitoring practices, which will save lives and protect our precious natural resources.

For further information or to sign on to this letter, please contact Emily Richardson at
Emily.Richardson@mail.house.gov or 202-225-1784.

Sincerely,

 

DAVID E. PRICE

Member of Congress

 

Andrew Wheeler

Acting Administrator

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Washington, DC 20460

 

Mary Jackson

Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery

Environmental Protection Agency, 5304P

Washington, DC 20460

 

 

July XX, 2018

 

Dear Acting Administrator Wheeler and Ms. Jackson,

 

We write to you in strong opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) March 15, 2018 proposal to weaken critical protections provided by the 2015 coal ash rule.  Without adequate protections in place, millions of American families, wildlife,
and our streams and rivers will be left unprotected from toxic coal ash exposure, contamination, and catastrophic spills.

 

As you know, coal ash poses an enormous threat to the health and safety of Americans across the country.  Hazardous chemicals such as mercury, lead, chromium, arsenic, selenium, and boron can have devastating health effects, including nervous system damage;
developmental issues in children; increased risk of cancer; eye, nose, and throat irritation; and increased instances of asthma when particles are leaked into groundwater or blown into the air[1]
In addition to health hazards, spills can cause direct harm to wildlife, especially aquatic life in polluted waterways, potentially killing large populations of sensitive species.

 

Proper guidance and regulation for the storage and disposal of coal ash waste is critical to ensure the health and safety of the American public.  For years, the federal government lacked comprehensive rules for coal ash disposal, which undoubtedly contributed
to two major coal ash spills in the last decade – the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant spill in 2008, which allowed 5.4 million cubic yards of ash to pollute nearby rivers[2],
and the 2014 spill at a Duke Energy plant in North Carolina that resulted in 39,000 tons of coal ash polluting the Dan River[3].

 

In the wake of these incidents, EPA began extensive consultations with utilities, affected industries, environmental groups, and other stakeholders to develop a commonsense rule for the appropriate regulation of coal ash waste.  These regulations included
structural integrity requirements for coal ash impoundments, groundwater monitoring and corrective action standards, operating criteria for coal ash units, and record keeping and public disclosure requirements[4].

 

We are concerned with the revisions made under EPA’s new proposal, which weakens the previously established standards for groundwater protection, safety, and response to potential spills. The agency is proposing to weaken groundwater
monitoring and cleanup requirements without considering the widespread evidence of significant groundwater contamination recently revealed by the coal and power industry’s own data. Already, under the 2015 rule’s reporting requirements, coal ash waste sites
across the country display evidence of contaminated groundwater.[5] These proposed changes are unjustified, endanger both the public and the environment, and do not comply with the Resource Conservation and Recovery
Act (RCRA). 

 

Moreover, the proposal gives industry, states, and political appointees too much discretion to determine safety and groundwater monitoring standards, appropriate timelines for pond and landfill closures, and whether spill cleanups are adequate or even required.
This represents a departure from the previous requirement that such determinations be conducted by professional engineers.  Finally, the proposed changes suggest that one of the most important components of the 2015 rule – the requirement that owners and operators
of coal ash dumps post certain information on publicly available websites– will no longer be required.  This provision ensures that citizens, especially those living and working near coal ash dumps, have access to critical information regarding cleanup efforts,
inspection reports, and groundwater monitoring.

 

The 2015 coal ash rule—while far from perfect—was clearly a step in the right direction in establishing a consistent, cohesive federal plan for the proper regulation of coal ash.  The final rule was a result of extensive and thoughtful dialogue between affected
entities and was applauded by key stakeholders.  In contrast, weak and inconsistent rules like the EPA’s new proposal increase the probability of major spills that endanger human health and threaten waterways, aquatic life, and livelihoods that depend on our
country’s pristine and unpolluted natural resources.

 

We urge you to reconsider these harmful revisions and keep in place the core protections of the 2015 rule.  Thank you for your consideration of our request, and please do not hesitate to contact us for additional information.

 

Sincerely,

 


[1] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. “Human and Ecological Risk Assessment of Coal Combustion
Wastes.” Draft EPA document. P.ES-7 (April 2010).

[2] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA Response to Kingston TVA Coal Ash Spill, https://www.epa.gov/tn/epa-response-kingston-tva-coal-ash-spill (last visited May 11, 2018).

[3] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill in Eden, NC, History and Response Timeline, https://www.epa.gov/dukeenergy-coalash/history-and-response-timeline (last
visited May 11, 2018).

[4] 80 Fed. Reg. 21,301 (April 17, 2015).

[5] Coal Ash Uncovered: Polluted Groundwater Found At 14 Kentucky Sites. National Public Radio WKU, 25 June 2018, http://wkyufm.org/post/coal-ash-uncovered-polluted-groundwater-found-14-kentucky-sites#stream/0; 
Groundwater Contamination from Oklahoma Coal Ash Dumps and Noncompliance with the Federal Coal Ash Rule. Earthjustice, 18 June 2018, https://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/OK%20Fact%20Sheet%20Groundwater%20Contamination%20and%20Noncompliance%20FNL%206.18.18.pdf. 

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