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This opinion piece was written for Earthjustice and is reprinted here with permission.  

Okay, so we’ve established the hazards of coal ash. There is no doubt that arsenic, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead, selenium and other toxic metals have no business in our drinking water. So why are 44 of our elected leaders calling on the Obama administration to treat coal ash as a NON-hazardous waste?

Let’s back up a bit: the Obama administration announced a few weeks ago that the coal ash rule will not see the light of day until at least 2012. The EPA had considered regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste after the December 2008 toxic coal ash spill  in Tennessee, which sent 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry gushing into the Emory River and surrounding community. We realized there was continued industry pushback for the rule but were disheartened to learn that it would be delayed, given that there are at least 676 coal ash dams in 35 states, including 48 “high hazard” dams (similar to the Kingston TVA site) across the country. Failure of any of these likely would take human life. Another 136 “significant hazard” dams would cause substantial economic and environmental harm if they failed.
There is no refuting the fact that coal ash is toxic and should be kept away from communities.But some of our senators feel otherwise.

If you didn’t know better, reading parts of the letter to the White House may have you think that these elected leaders understand that coal ash should be kept away from the public:

The release of (coal ash) from the Tennessee Valley Authority impoundment in December 2008 properly caused the EPA to consider whether (coal ash) impoundments and landfills should meet more stringent standards. All operators should meet appropriate standards, and those who fail to do so should be held responsible.
Yet, the letter goes on to say:
We believe regulation of (coal ash) under subtitle D will ensure proper design and operations standards in all states where (coal ash) are disposed.
To call the subtitle D option a “regulation” is grossly misleading, however.  Subtitle D establishes “guidelines,” not a federal regulatory program. In fact, the EPA predicts that 30 states will, in fact, reject the subtitle D guidelines.  Thus, in those 30 states, which represent 52 percent of the coal ash generated in the U.S., there will still be no federally enforceable regulations applicable to coal ash disposal.

Among the Dems who signed the letter are senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Max Baucus, (D-MT), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Mark Warner (D-VA).

(Here is a letter that 104 organizations sent to the Hill to ask senators to refrain from joining the ruckus.)

It’s terrible that instead of protecting our public health, these politicians are standing in its way. Shame on all of these senators for throwing clean water under the bus to protect industry polluters.

As this coal ash rule is mired in the politics of Washington, communities across the country bear the burden of living near these toxic sites. When will their elected leaders realize their constituents’ right to clean water?

Coal ash regulation: In the back pocket of polluters
44 senators urge Obama to back off coal ash regulation.