We live in a neighborhood facing serious health and environmental harm from coal ash, and the McKinley coal ash bill will do nothing to stop the damage or require a clean up of the damage already done. Unbelievably, banana peels and coffee grounds are better regulated than how his amendment would regulate toxic coal ash.
And yet neither the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection nor the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has ever fined FirstEnergy for the toxic releases onto our properties. Instead, both state agencies approved a so-called "remedy" that collects the toxic water and pumps it back into the 1,000-acre, unlined dump. The toxic water then just leaks back out and continues to gush into our neighborhood, into streams and the Ohio River. At times, the toxic water flowing from the side of the dump has been clocked at over 700 gallons per minute – we’ve been told that’s the equivalent of seven fire hoses!
We’re at the mercy of state environmental agencies that have done a woefully inadequate job protecting us. Congressman McKinley wants to keep it that way. In fact, Congressman McKinley refused to meet with us and instead sponsored a bill that reflects a resolution of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The ALEC-supported coal ash bill is attempting to stop the regulation of coal ash at the urging of the utilities and the coal industry. ALEC is the same corporate-funded organization that pushed for controversial voter suppression laws.
Is Congressman McKinley listening to his constituents, or just his funders? Many of us spoke at coal ash hearings and joined over 400,000 other Americans in supporting federal protections. Last year 2,000 citizens living near leaking coal ash dumps throughout the country sent letters to the Senate pleading for protection. Among the citizens signing this letter were over 100 West Virginia residents.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller seems to get this: he said recently that Congressman McKinley’s amendment deserves no place in the Transportation bill. We appreciate Senator Rockefeller’s concern for our health and thank him for standing up to the misguided notion that a coal ash amendment should be part of the Transportation bill.
But Congressman McKinley continues to ignore the science that tells anyone who cares to look that coal ash can leak toxic chemicals like arsenic, chromium and selenium, at levels far higher than hazardous waste. The Congressman knows that there is new information on exactly what communities like ours are being exposed to as a result of living near toxic coal ash. But Mr. McKinley claims there is a question regarding whether coal ash is toxic. The only people who question it are the utilities that are trying to avoid the cost of safe disposal.
Specifically, why does the Congressman continually ignore the findings of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study of coal ash? The NAS study was commissioned by Congress, led by Congressman Nick Rahall and the late Senator Robert Byrd, both from West Virginia. The NAS findings called for federally enforceable safeguards that include isolation of coal ash from all water sources. The distinguished NAS panel also acknowledged coal ash contains toxic metals like arsenic and could harm humans and the environment, if disposed of improperly.
Folks in West Virginia and beyond believe Congressman McKinley should include all the facts -- not just the ones that protect the polluters' point of view. West Virginians can see Congressman McKinley is supporting polluters and a failed system of state oversight, not our health and safety.
Respectfully submitted on behalf of citizens living near coal ash dump sites – including our WV neighbors,
Steve and Annette Rhodes are residents of Chester, West Virginia.