June 28, 2023, Chicago – Scores of organizers and community members from across the country descended upon today’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) public hearing to give testimony in support of newly proposed rules to remove the loophole that allows energy companies to poison communities with 500 million tons of toxic coal ash dumped in unlined pits across the country. That includes 88 coal ash pits within two miles of a great lake, threatening the drinking water of millions.
Witnesses from 22 states and territories testified before the EPA panel about the threat of coal ash to their health, their communities, sources of drinking water, and their natural environment. Hopes are high that the Biden administration and EPA Administrator Michael Regan, will move forward with this important policy shift. While advocates applaud the positive move by the administration, they continue to emphasize that it is imperative the EPA close the existing coal ash loophole completely, leaving no room for power plant owners to continue poisoning our communities with unregulated toxic coal ash.
The delegation was led by Earthjustice, the Climate Justice Alliance, Just Transition Northwest Indiana, and Chicago Jobs with Justice, who were joined in solidarity by many regional and national organizations.
“This is our collective moment that we have long been waiting for, to bring a mighty voice to this silent crisis. In Michigan City, like so many communities, we are sick and tired of being sacrificed by utility profiteers,” said Ashley Williams, Executive Director of Just Transition Northwest Indiana. “Every day the Biden Administration waits, another coal ash disaster becomes even more inevitable. We are ready to hold polluters accountable and see environmental justice prevail.”
“For far too long, a large portion of toxic coal ash around the U.S. was left leaching into drinking water supplies without any requirement it be cleaned up,” said Lisa Evans, senior counsel at Earthjustice. “The EPA is taking significant steps to address a massive loophole that let many coal plant owners off the hook from cleaning up the toxic mess they created. Power plants will finally lose their hall pass to leave coal ash wherever they dumped it. As the EPA works to finalize these reforms by next year, there are a few things they need to do. The EPA must close the loophole tightly, so utilities cannot avoid cleaning up any toxic coal ash. It doesn’t matter when or where it’s been dumped; it needs to be dealt with. The EPA must keep close tabs on whether the utilities are complying with federal health protections. We’ve learned polluters rarely do the right thing unless they know there are serious consequences. Enforcement will make or break these new safeguards.”
“Black and low-income communities face the highest risks of death from power plants’ fine particle pollution. Georgia Power is operating 3 coal plants and managing 10 retired coal ash sites and contaminated ponds,” said Aaliyah Smith, policy manager for The People’s Justice Council, a member of Climate Justice Alliance. “I grew up 30 minutes from Plant Bowen, the 17th most dangerous coal power plant in the nation. Its soot-emitting coal pollution has led to 3,800 premature deaths across the nation. The EPA must hold polluters accountable to cleaning up this disaster they’ve created.”
“This loophole left open by the EPA is yet another example of corporate greed putting profits over the health and safety of communities and workers across the country. Toxic coal ash deposits and inevitable post-disaster clean ups have stolen lives for too long,” said Jill Manrique, Executive Director of Chicago Jobs with Justice. “Chicago Jobs with Justice is fighting in solidarity with impacted workers, community members, and environmental justice activists demanding the EPA close deadly coal ash loopholes. We demand the EPA hold profit hoarding polluters accountable for the lives they’ve stolen from every worker and every community they’ve destroyed. The unnecessary sickness and death of workers sent to clean up their messes ends today.”
In 2015, the Obama Administration signed the U.S. EPA’s coal ash rule into law to address the risks of coal ash. The rule exempted hundreds of inactive coal ash landfills and unlined ponds across the country, allowing them to bypass critical monitoring and cleanup requirements and endangering the health and well-being of workers and the communities near these power plants.
The EPA proposed a new, expanded coal ash rule that would extend federal monitoring, closure, and cleanup protections to hundreds of older landfills, legacy ponds, and fill sites previously excluded. Earthjustice sued the EPA twice on behalf of environmental, civil rights, and community groups, challenging this loophole. The draft rule is a result of those lawsuits. This is a big leap for environmental justice, but the EPA needs to commit to enforcement and complete the job to include ALL toxic coal ash sites. The current proposal unacceptably fails to extend regulations to landfills at former coal plant sites that do not have legacy ponds and also exempts ponds that did not have water in them since 2015 as well as active power plants that claim to not have any regulated units.
The day of action was coordinated by Earthjustice, Climate Justice Alliance, Just Transition Northwest Indiana, and Chicago Jobs with Justice in partnership with:
- Southeast Environmental Task Force
- Clean Power Lake County
- Little Village Environmental Justice Organization
- Neighbors for Environmental Justice
- Sierra Club IL
- Chicago Environmental Justice Network
- Faith in Place
- And more!
Susan Thomas, Press Coordinator, Just Transition Northwest Indiana:
[email protected] | 847-767-1870
Valerie Holford for Earthjustice:
[email protected] | 202-365-5336
Jessica Xiao, Narrative Strategy Manager, Climate Justice Alliance:
[email protected] | 202-550-1042