No Movement on Coal Ash Protections Despite Mounting Evidence of Danger

No Movement on Coal Ash Protections Despite Mounting Evidence of Danger

Posted on October 23, 2012

Dumping coal ash

This December will mark the four-year anniversary of a massive spill in Tennessee that sparked new calls for the regulation of coal ash, a toxic waste produced when coal is burned. Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed options for regulating coal ash in 2010, little progress has been made toward issuing comprehensive national standards. Environmental groups have asked the courts to force the agency to act while bills attempting to thwart new standards have been moving through Congress. This impasse may continue until after the upcoming elections. The failure to provide adequate standards for coal ash is increasingly alarming as new studies continue to highlight its dangers.

In December 2008, an embankment holding wet coal ash ruptured at the Tennessee Valley Authority‘s Kingston plant, releasing 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash sludge that buried a community and severely contaminated a nearby river. Coal ash can contain arsenic, lead, chromium, and other heavy metals, all of which poison humans.

In 2010, EPA proposed two options for regulating coal ash under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA):

  • The first option would designate coal ash as a hazardous waste, requiring special handling, transportation, and disposal, and would closely monitor any potential reuse. This option would be far more protective of Americans‘ health and the environment.
  • The second option would regulate coal ash in the same way less toxic wastes like household garbage are regulated. This option would limit EPA’s responsibility and authority over coal ash management.

Two years later, no final rules have been issued, and the U.S. House of Representatives has passed bills which, if enacted into law, would limit federal oversight over coal ash.

Last week, The Washington Post published an article noting that election-year politics are likely delaying a decision on coal ash protections. The outcome of the November elections could determine the future of coal ash regulation: House-passed legislation to weaken federal authority over coal ash has so far been blocked by the Democratically controlled Senate. In the absence of regulatory action by the executive branch, the future of coal ash protections will depend on whether Congress enacts legislation to prevent certain new rules or the courts mandate that new rules be established by the EPA.

A new peer-reviewed study led by Duke University provides fodder for advocates’ demands for action. It found high levels of arsenic and other toxins in coal ash waste flowing into lakes and rivers in North Carolina. According to one researcher, some of the highest levels of contamination were found in coal ash waste streams that flow into a lake that is a primary drinking water source for Charlotte. Samples collected from that lake during the summers of 2010 and 2011 contained arsenic at levels about 25 times higher than the current EPA standards for drinking water. The researcher also noted that “there are no systematic monitoring or regulations to reduce water-quality impacts from coal ash ponds because coal ash is not considered as hazardous waste.”

These findings support those of a report by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, which uncovered dozens of cases in which ponds of toxic coal combustion waste leaked into nearby wetlands, streams, and groundwater supplies.

The stakes are high for environmentalists and residents living near coal ash production and storage operations. The U.S. generates roughly 140 million tons of coal ash every year, about half of which is kept in storage ponds and landfills. Many of these storage locations have received “high hazard potential” ratings, yet there is still no comprehensive federal policy for controlling the storage and disposal of coal ash waste.

The evidence of the health and safety risks posed by coal ash helps make the case for more stringent standards. Even those who disagree on the specifics of new rules acknowledge that inaction is problematic and that standards are needed. The lack of uniform standards only adds to regulatory uncertainty for businesses that store or recycle coal ash, and nonexistent or weak standards do nothing to protect the public.

Image in teaser by flickr user Rhiannon Fionn, used under a Creative Commons license


Government Accountability Office Report Debunks Industry Criticism of New Federal Fracking Rules | OMB Watch

Government Accountability Office Report Debunks Industry Criticism of New Federal Fracking Rules

Posted on October 23, 2012

As of Oct. 15, oil and gas operators must notify the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) via e-mail two days in advance of extracting natural gas from a hydraulically fractured or refractured well. This notification requirement is part of EPA’s new Clean Air Act (CAA) standards, which will reduce emissions from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released during natural gas production by requiring “green completions” after January 2015. Industry opposes the standards, but a new report shows they are crucial to protecting the public.

The oil and gas industry appears to be ramping up its lobbying efforts to dismantle the new rule, beginning with criticism of the advance notice requirement that went into effect last week. In particular, drillers are upset that they must send the advance notice to EPA, preferring state regulation of hydraulic fracturing. Continue reading “Government Accountability Office Report Debunks Industry Criticism of New Federal Fracking Rules | OMB Watch”

Bills of the 111th Congress Concerning Climate Change

The bills, resolutions, and amendments of the 112th Congress dealing with climate change are divided into the following categories:

Bill Categories:


H.R.300: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Act
This bill would reestablish the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the Department of Commerce, headed by an Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, who would serve as the Administrator of NOAA. It would maintain within NOAA programs to conduct and support research and education and the development of technologies relating to climate, amongst other things.  Sponsor:  Rep Vernon Ehlers  [R-MI] (introduced 1/8/2009).

H.R.367: Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act of 2009
This bill would direct the President to establish a National Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System to support climate, and improve the ability to measure, track, explain, and predict weather and climate change and natural climate variability, among other things. Sponsor: Rep Lois Capps  [D-CA] (introduced 1/9/2009). Continue reading “Bills of the 111th Congress Concerning Climate Change”

Green Jobs: Electrical Workers Construct Solar Arrays in Maryland


Green Jobs: Electrical Workers Construct Solar Arrays in Maryland

10/17/2012; Jackie Tortora

Electrical workers from Washington, D.C.’s IBEW Local 26 are building some cutting-edge green energy on the rooftops of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Md. Made possible by the 2009 stimulus funds, highly skilled electrical workers are building four solar arrays with all “Made in America” materials to power the NIST complex with one on the ground, two on the roof and one parking structure. Watch our new Innovators website feature, “Stimulus Money Brings Solar Jobs,” to learn more.

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Help Save the Clean Water Act!

Natural Resources Defense Council Activist AlertThere was a time in America‘s history when rivers were so polluted that they caught fire.


A time when Lake Erie was pronounced “dead.”

We’ve come a long way since then thanks to the Clean Water Act, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. But now the U.S. Senate is considering a bill, S. 3558, that could undo decades of progress and attack the heart of the Clean Water Act.

Urge your senators to oppose this dirty water bill and defend our clean water legacy.

The Clean Water Act is an American success story: Our nation’s waters are far cleaner today than they were 40 years ago. More waters are available for fishing, swimming and as drinking water sources. The act also protects wetlands, which help filter pollutants and limit flooding.

But S. 3558 would undermine that progress and jeopardize the health of our waters. This bill weakens the Clear Water Act in two critical ways:

  1. It limits the federal government’s ability to enforce clean water standards.
  2. It restricts the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to protect our waters from the most destructive waste dumping proposals.

We simply cannot afford to roll back 40 years of progress by allowing our waters to become increasingly polluted and dangerous.

Don’t let Congress undo decades of clean water progress: Tell your senators to oppose this dirty water bill.

Protect America’s Arctic : Thank You – Take Action!: NRDC’s Save BioGems

Protect America’s Arctic : Thank You – Take Action!: NRDC’s Save BioGems.


The Obama Administration is moving ahead with a plan for the Western Arctic Reserve that will protect vital habitat for caribou, polar bears, beluga whales and millions of migratory birds. Ask Interior Secretary Salazar to stand strong against those who would weaken this wildlife-friendly plan.

Fracking Flame

I have wonderful news to report in our long-running campaign to protect the Western Arctic Reserve — one of our continent’s largest expanses of untouched wilderness.

Earlier this year, we generated more than 45,000 messages, urging the Obama Administration to adopt a plan that would protect key wildlife habitat in the Reserve from oil and gas development.

The Bureau of Land Management listened … and is now moving ahead with that preferred plan!

Please send Interior Secretary Ken Salazar a message of thanks for protecting some 11 million acres of critical wildlife habitat within the Reserve.

Secretary Salazar will be under enormous pressure from the oil lobby and others who would weaken these wildlife protections. He needs to hear pro-wildlife voices like yours.

Since the Western Arctic Reserve was set aside as a “National Petroleum Reserve” almost a century ago, it has been constantly vulnerable to efforts by Big Oil to turn it into an oil and gas wasteland.

Thanks to the Bureau’s new plan, many of its most sensitive wildlands will now be safeguarded.

That includes the prized Teshekpuk Lake region, which provides critical calving grounds for a large caribou herd, as well as summer habitat for polar bears … and the Kasegaluk Lagoon, where thousands of beluga whales gather every year to feed and bear their young. A staggering variety of birds also take refuge in these wetlands, some migrating from as far south as Antarctica.

This is a huge win not only for Arctic wildlife, but for all Americans who care about protecting our natural heritage for future generations … and it would not have been possible without your online activism and support.

Send Interior Secretary Salazar a message of thanks for granting the Western Arctic Reserve the strong protection it needs — and ask him to fend off any and all attempts to weaken it.

Thank you for standing with NRDC to keep the Arctic wild and free.


Frances Beinecke
Natural Resources Defense Council



Six Reasons Why Government Contracting Can Negatively Impact Quality Jobs and Why it Matters for Everyone


Six Reasons Why Government Contracting Can Negatively Impact Quality Jobs and Why it Matters for Everyone

By Dr. Janice Fine, School of Management and Labor Relations, Rutgers University

Almost one of our every 5 non-farm workers in the US is employed in the public sector, with half of those working in K-12 schools, public colleges, and universities. Recessions and corresponding budget deficits, coupled with the mistaken belief that the private sector is always more efficient than the public sector, has led the federal, state and local governments to contract out many of the services they once provided.

There is considerable and growing evidence that contracting out does not save government and taxpayer money and negatively impacts quality of service. Privatization of public functions reduces government jobs, especially for non-managerial and administrative workers and eliminates good jobs for workers without college degrees. While it may sound like a good idea, contracting out deserves a closer look. This white paper summarizes recent research that shows how the public sector provides quality middle-class jobs, and describes how government privatization eliminates these good jobs without much savings to the taxpayer, and increases inequality, which is costly – today and in the future. As mounting evidence shows, when government functions as a model employer in employment and compensation practices, our families, neighborhoods, communities, states, and society as a whole benefit. Continue reading “Six Reasons Why Government Contracting Can Negatively Impact Quality Jobs and Why it Matters for Everyone”

Fighting Misinformation about Climate Science

global warming

Fighting Misinformation about Climate Science

Union of Concerned Scientists calls out News Corporation for overwhelmingly misleading coverage of climate science

On September 21, 2012, the Union of Concerned Scientists hand-delivered nearly 20,000 postcards to News Corporation’s New York headquarters calling on News Corp. to stop misleading its audience about climate science.

The delivery culminated a UCS-sponsored event that highlighted the current state of climate science and its coverage in the media. The video above captures the highlights from the day’s activities in Bryant Park and outside News Corp. headquarters.

News Corporation misleads nearly 4 million viewers and readers on climate science

Our recent snapshot analysis, Is News Corp. Failing Science?, found that recent coverage of climate science in two of News Corp.’s flagship properties — Fox News Channel and the Wall Street Journal opinion pages — has been overwhelmingly misleading. Continue reading “Fighting Misinformation about Climate Science”

BP Stalling to See Election Results?

More than two years ago, a massive blowout from BP’s Deepwater Horizon fouled the Gulf of Mexico in one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history.  Yet, no federal charges have been brought against the oil giant.

Instead, federal prosecutors and industry lawyers continue to negotiate behind closed doors.  Many are starting to suspect that BP is running out the clock in hopes that a Romney victory will strengthen its hand.

That suspicion is supported by a sweetheart deal BP cut late in the Bush administration.  In March 2006, a major BP pipeline leak went undetected for days, spilling a quarter-million gallons of oil on the Alaskan tundra, making it the largest oil spill in the history of the North Slope. The spill occurred because BP ignored its own workers’ warnings by neglecting critical maintenance to cut costs (sound familiar?) Continue reading “BP Stalling to See Election Results?”

Celebrating a Public Protections Milestone: The 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act | OMB Watch

Celebrating a Public Protections Milestone: The 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act | OMB Watch.

Posted on October 10, 2012


Oct. 18 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, a crucial law that protects the nation’s water from pollution. Congress passed the landmark legislation at a time when much of our water was so contaminated by industrial waste and other pollutants that it was unfit for public use. By setting ambitious goals for the cleanup of contaminated waters, the Clean Water Act led to dramatic improvements in water quality and serious reductions in industrial pollution. As we celebrate the significant successes of the Clean Water Act, however, we must remain focused on responding to current and future threats to water quality.

The Call to Action

In 1972, heightened public concern about the devastating impacts of water pollution pushed Congress to amend the relatively weak Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 and adopt the Clean Water Act. (This followed several high-profile disasters like Ohio‘s Cuyahoga River catching on fire because of the contaminants in the water.) The Clean Water Act strengthened the statutory framework and required mandatory pollution controls and meaningful enforcement mechanisms. Continue reading “Celebrating a Public Protections Milestone: The 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act | OMB Watch”