Comments: U.S. EPA Public Hearing for Proposed Rule Change No. EPA-HQ-OLEM-2020-0107
Good afternoon, My name is Nancy Muse. I serve on the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club Alabama Chapter, work with the Tennessee Chapter Beyond Coal Campaign and am a charter member of the Shoals Environmental Alliance.
I am a retired public school teacher, mother, and grandmother. I reside in the Muscle Shoals area of Northwest Alabama, on the banks of the beautiful but terribly polluted Tennessee River, which is also the birthplace of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Alabama is the 4th most biodiverse state in the union and #1 in aquatic biodiversity but remains under threat due to 44 coal ash ponds located in critical, ecologically sensitive areas which are also in and near communities, some which are densely populated.
Here in the Shoals area, we have inherited the grave consequences of the burning of coal for electricity production. Coal ash, which is sitting in groundwater and stored in capped ponds at the former TVA Colbert Steam Plant, serves as a testimony to the reckless and profit-driven coal industry’s lack of responsibility and accountability to the very ratepayers who are now straddled with this ongoing plague.
As I speak, coal ash sludge is leaching into aquifers and rivers here and around the nation. Also as I speak, countless citizens, including coal workers, are sick and many have died due to exposure to the wide array of coal ash toxins, which are well known to be a threat to the health of not only humans but also domestic animals, fish and wildlife. It also must be noted that, as stated in a report in Scientific American, over the past few decades, a series of studies have produced conclusions which have mostly gone ignored: the waste produced by coal plants is actually more radioactive than that generated by their nuclear counterparts. In fact, the fly ash emitted by a power plant—a by-product from burning coal for electricity—carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy.
What a surreal and extremely sad commentary it is that, due to the overwhelming enormity the burden of coal ash has placed on the public, many have become demoralized and have disengaged, falling into a paralyzing complacency which further exacerbates the problem and enables further exploitation by the coal industry. It is completely immoral and should be criminal, that the behemoth fossil fuel industry has unashamedly walked away, leaving their blight on the land and the people.
The industry must assume the burden and be held accountable. Our government, whose purpose it is to serve the people, is charged to protect the health and welfare of the citizens it serves. We, the people, are dependent upon the government to mandate strong environmental protection regulations for the cleanup of all coal ash storage facilities across the nation. These regulations must consistently and strictly be enforced on local, state and federal levels. This colossal coal-ash mess has been abandoned by the very ones who have walked away with full pockets and fat bank accounts at the expense of the ratepayers. This is adding insult to injury since ratepayers, forced to accept dirty fuels and pay high power bills, are never given an opportunity to have a say about their own power production nor are they given a right to refuse dirty power production. Especially victimized are indigent, disempowered and often uninformed communities that are located in close proximity to these coal ash graveyards.
Resistance by the industry must not play into or have any influence in this decision since the industry has had its way with us for way too long. It is way past time that strong government regulations as well as strict consequences for noncompliance be put in place that close all existing loopholes and provide a clear path to the cleanup and state-of-the-art disposal of coal ash, holding the polluting industries, who reap great profits, responsible. No coal ash ponds, including legacy ponds, surroundings and other affected areas, should be exempt from comprehensive cleanups and continued monitoring.
Thank you for this opportunity today to raise our voices and exercise the democratic process in an open and transparent way. Many thanks to all the hardworking EPA professionals who, despite challenges imposed by political will, are developing long overdue solutions to once and for all, right these wrongs which have been imposed on the public for way too long.