Give the EPA the ability to protect us

The government needs to be able to protect citizens from coal ash.

by Anna Hanson, University student

On Oct. 31, a large section of bluff on the Wisconsin shore of Lake Michigan collapsed next to the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant.

The collapse sent a pick-up truck, dredging equipment and other debris, soil, mud and 2,500 cubic yards of coal ash âÄî enough to fill 200 dump trucks âÄî into the lake. Coal ash is a dangerous by-product of burning coal for energy. It contains harmful chemicals including arsenic, lead and mercury, which are poisonous and can cause cancer and damage to the nervous system, especially in children.

Despite its hazardous characteristics, there is no federal regulation of coal ash, and state laws concerning coal combustion waste disposal are usually weak or nonexistent. Across the country, millions of tons of coal ash are being stored in ponds, landfills and abandoned mines, letting contaminants seep into the groundwater. This exposes neighboring communities and wildlife to toxic and carcinogenic substances.

There have been several major spills in recent years âÄî Georgia in 2002, Pennsylvania in 2005 and Tennessee in 2008 âÄî each flooding surrounding residential areas with thousands of tons of poisonous coal ash.

Coal-fired power plants are the second largest industrial waste producers in the U.S., emitting 131 million tons of waste per year. Just two weeks ago the coal industry successfully lobbied the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a bill stripping the Environmental Protection Agency of the authority to protect Americans from coal ash.

This latest coal ash spill into Lake Michigan is an urgent reminder of the terrible hazards of major coal ash spills and slow, but no less dangerous, contamination. We need to demand that our Congress-people revoke the recent bill and enable the EPA to pass federal regulations protecting our communities and environment.