Coal Ash Communities Call on the White House for Protection

Residents of communities impacted by toxic coal ash met with the White House yesterday to argue for new regulations aimed at protecting public health and the environment. 


Elisa Young of Meigs County, Ohio, Tim Tanksley of Bokoshe, Oklahoma, and John Wathen of Uniontown, Alabama, met with officials from the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) and the Council on Environmental Quality, as well as representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency who are developing the regulation.

Coal ash is a byproduct of coal combustion. It can contain a variety of toxins like arsenic and lead. Coal ash is sometimes stored in large open-air ponds with little or no environmental safeguards. The substance can seep into nearby waterways or groundwater supplies, leading to environmental and health problems.

EPA has developed a proposed rule that would strengthen oversight of coal ash management and disposal. But the proposal is being held up at OIRA, which has been reviewing a draft since Oct. 16, 2009. By its own rules, OIRA is to spend no more than 120 days reviewing agency drafts. We’re now approaching day 180 of the review – nearly half a year.

Young, Tanksley, and Wathen came to Washington to ask OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein to release the proposal and allow the EPA to go forward. “When there is a public health hazard like this, it is the government’s job to help us out,” said Tanksley. “It doesn’t have anything to do with politics at this point; it is about our safety, and the safety of our children.”

As OMB Watch Executive Director Gary Bass recently wrote for the Huffington Post, OIRA’s delay of the coal ash proposal is preventing other coal ash community residents from participating in the debate. EPA’s publication of the proposal, which has yet to be disclosed, would mark the beginning of a public comment period. Before meeting with Young, Tanksley, and Wathen, whose visit was organized by the nonprofit Ohio Citizen Action, OIRA had only met with representatives from industry and major environmental groups. By delaying the rule, OIRA is delaying a democratic debate on the coal ash issue.

Having met with those experiencing coal ash’s effects first hand, OIRA will hopefully look at this issue in a new light and with greater urgency. EPA spent months developing its proposal, cognizant of the need to address the environmental and public health risks that coal ash poses to communities across the country. It’s time for those communities to be given an unbridled opportunity to make their voices heard.

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