Sierra Club pushes EPA to go tough on coal ash

The Sierra Club on Monday launched a new ad campaign aimed at pressuring the Environmental Protection Agency into adopting strong regulations against dumping coal ash into water.

The ad campaign, dubbed “Thirsty?”, warns that coal ash could pollute drinking water, citing spills in West Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. The ads urge the EPA to protect against such pollution, which they said contains arsenic, mercury and lead.

“Americans deserve water we can drink, not water that makes us sick,” Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said in a statement Monday. “The West Virginia water crisis, the Duke Energy coal ash spill and the [Tennessee Valley Authority] coal ash disaster of 2008 all underscore the inadequacy of current state and federal safeguards. Now is the time to act swiftly in order to protect our health and waterways from coal’s toxic legacy.”

The EPA started to write regulations prohibiting coal ash dumping in 2008 but has not finished the process. The agency agreed to finish the regulations by December to settle a lawsuit brought by environmental groups and Native American tribes.

“We urge the EPA to move quickly to issue strong, enforceable protections that end all dangerous wet storage of coal ash, permanently removing the threat of coal ash spills,” Hitt said in her statement. “We can't afford another Dan River disaster,” she said, referring to a February spill at a Duke Energy facility in North Carolina.

The American Coal Council has opposed regulating coal ash, which is a byproduct of coal-fueled power plants. The coal group has called such regulations unscientific and rash, and said the negative impact would be “widespread and immediate.”

The Sierra Club ads will be appearing in Washington Metrorail stations and on North Carolina-based websites.