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Green Party blasts EPA lack of preparedness in handling TVA plant’s coal ash spill

The hazardous waste disaster is evidence that the US should stop using coal to generate electricity, say Greens

Green Party leaders strongly criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s response to the recent spill of 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant.

“The EPA has failed to follow through on its stated intention to regulate coal ash as hazardous waste,” said Frank Jeffers of the Green Party’s Eco-Action Committee (http://www.gp.org/committees/ecoaction/index.php).  “Nationwide, how big is this mess?  Very very big.  There are thousands of coal waste sites all over the country, and when it comes to coal wastes, you can figure about anything that could be in it, is in it.”

According to a December 29 article in The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/30/us/30sludge.html), byproducts from the Kingston plant in just one year include “45,000 pounds of arsenic, 49,000 pounds of lead, 1.4 million pounds of barium, 91,000 pounds of chromium and 140,000 pounds of manganese. Those metals can cause cancer, liver damage and neurological complications, among other health problems.”

As a result of the spill, the toxins have now been poured into a 400 acre area, rendering the land uninhabitable.

Greens called the spill a preventable disaster, noting that if the EPA had implemented its recommendation in 2000 to label coal ash as a hazardous waste, the coal ash would have been contained in a pond with a composite liner system.

According to the Times article, the EPA backed off this recommendation “in the face of industry opposition, promising instead to issue national guidelines for proper ash disposal, though it never did.”

“The enforcement of such guidelines is not optional.  Safe drinking water standards are not optional.  Such cowardice in the face of industry pressure is unacceptable.  Americans deserve a strong advocate for their health and the health of their environment,” said Linda Cree, co-chair of the Eco-Action Committee.

Greens called on President-elect Obama’s chosen EPA administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, to:

  • Label coal ash as hazardous waste
  • Retrofit all coal ash ponds and coal ash landfills with composite liner systems
  • Require a complete and accurate inventory of coal combustion waste (CCW) sites, including abandoned sites
  • Issue public advisories on the hazards posed to communities by all CCW sites
  • Relocate and reimburse local residents impacted by the sludge
  • Mitigate damage to local water supplies and establish a local environmental advocate to monitor water quality

Green Party leaders said that the sheer size of the Kingston coal ash spill, estimated to be more than 40 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, is evidence that the US should begin to phase out the use of coal to generate electricity.

The Green Party has long advocated phasing out existing coal plants and a ban on new ones, part of an aggressive national policy based on conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy.  See the Green Party EcoAction Committee’s “First 100 Days Energy and Environmental Policy” (http://www.gp.org/committees/ecoaction/documents/First_100_Days.pdf).

“With more than 400 coal power plants in the US, the odds of a disaster of this magnitude occurring again are alarmingly high.  To safeguard our shared natural heritage, we must adopt the EPA’s prior recommendation that coal ash be treated as hazardous waste and contained as such.  Anything less, in the face of foreseeable catastrophe, is irresponsible,” said Art Browning, member of the Harris County (Texas) Green Party and producer of Greenwatch Live! (Houston Public Access TV).  Mr. Browning witnessed the dangerous effects of fly ash from a coal-fired electricity generation plant in Kingston, Tennessee, where he grew up.

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