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The broken federal committment behind the Tennessee coal ash disaster
"When Earthjustice Attorney Lisa Evans testified earlier this year before a congressional committee about the looming threat from coal combustion waste, she warned that the federal government's broken pledge to regulate disposal of the potentially dangerous material threatened the health and safety of communities across the country.
Speaking before a June 10 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources titled "How Should the Federal Government Address the Health and Environmental Risks of Coal Combustion Waste?," Evans pointed out that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in its Regulatory Determination on Wastes from the Combustion of Fossil Fuels published in 2000 that federal standards for disposal of coal combustion waste were needed to protect public health and the environment.
The federal failure to regulate the waste has put 23 states -- including Tennessee -- in a special bind, since their statutes have "no more stringent" provisions prohibiting them from enacting standards stricter than those found in federal law. Without federal action, those states can't regulate coal combustion waste disposal beyond the few obviously inadequate safeguards that now exist.
Yet the U.S. government's commitment to regulate the very real danger of coal combustion waste -- the nation's second-largest industrial waste stream with 129 million tons produced each year -- remains "an entirely empty promise," Evans testified [pdf]:
EPA and [the federal Office of Surface Mining] are fiddling while ash from burning coal poisons our water and sickens our communities. Inadequate state laws offer scant protection. Federal environmental statutes dictate that EPA and OSM must do what they promised to do and what they have been directed to do -- promulgate enforceable minimum federal standards to protect health and the environment nationwide from the risks posed by mismanagement of coal combustion waste.
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