Communities Have Right to Know About Toxic Coal Ash Impoundments

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Communities Have Right to Know About Toxic Coal Ash Impoundments

Industry seeks to protect “trade secrets” in waste

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - As the nation approaches the one-year anniversary of the TVA
toxic coal ash sludge disaster, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice and
Environmental Integrity Project took action to compel the Environmental
Protection Agency to release important information, including the
storage capacity, inspection results, and records of violations, of
more than 70 sites nationwide that store coal combustion waste in wet
impoundments.

Companies like Duke Energy, Alabama Power, Georgia Power and First
Energy have asked the EPA to withhold the information claiming it is
so-called "confidential business information." The three groups filed a
complaint late Tuesday in federal district court under the Freedom of
Information Act to obtain the withheld information because they believe
access to it is vital to the health and safety of those living near
these potentially hazardous sites.

"Most utilities have already provided EPA with exactly the same data
that Duke, First Energy, and the Southern Company subsidiaries are
trying to keep the public from seeing," said Eric Schaeffer, Executive
Director of the Environmental Integrity Project. "Their attempts to
hide the size of their ash ponds and other relevant information are
absurd, and ought to be quickly rejected by EPA."

"People living near these coal ash sites have a right to know if the
sites have failed inspections or have a history of safety violations,"
said Mary Anne Hitt, Deputy Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal
Campaign. "We're talking about some of the largest dump sites in the
nation here where the risks aren't being made public."

In response to demands made by Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity
Project, and Sierra Club, the EPA released data earlier this year that
show there are almost twice as many coal ash dumps as previously
identified, and that the largest dumps tended to be the oldest,
offering the least amount of protection. The majority of the dump
sites, which were identified in 35 states, are over three decades old.
These are the same kind of facilities as the Tennessee Valley Authority
impoundment that failed last December, releasing a billion gallon flood
of toxic coal ash sludge that destroyed three homes and eventually
covered over 300 acres in Harriman, Tennessee. While the information
released by the EPA to date provides the most comprehensive look at the
scale of the coal ash problem yet available, additional data crucial to
addressing the risks have been withheld by the EPA.

"In a few weeks, EPA will take the unprecedented step of proposing a
nationwide rule governing coal ash disposal," said Todd True,
Earthjustice attorney. "The public needs to have all the relevant
information about the largest toxic waste ponds in the US -- not only
to protect their communities -- but to participate meaningfully in the
upcoming rulemaking."

Coal ash sites contain harmful levels of arsenic, lead, mercury and
other toxins, which can leach out slowly and contaminate drinking water
sources or flood communities as happened in Tennessee. The EPA has so
far identified 49 coal ash impoundments as "high hazard" sites, meaning
that a failure at one of the facilities could lead to the loss of human
life.

The groups seeking release of the information through this lawsuit
are the Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project. The groups
are represented by Earthjustice and private attorney Dave Bahr.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

Read the complaint

 

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Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.

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