News | June 19, 2015

Testimony before Senate committee reaffirms need for strong coal ash rule

Senior attorney Frank Holleman, who leads SELC’s coal ash casework, testified Wednesday in front of the full Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The group met to hear testimony related to EPA’s new rule regulating coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal for energy. In December, EPA approved the first-ever guidelines for managing coal ash and the numerous harmful chemicals it contains, such as arsenic, selenium, and cadmium, among others. For decades the common practice has been store coal ash in unlined, leaking pits, often near waterways.

“In North Carolina today the state is testing drinking water wells near Duke Energy’s coal ash pits and over 90% of the well owners have been told ‘Stop drinking the water,’” Holleman said. “In South Carolina where I live, groundwater has been contaminated with arsenic at hundreds of times the legal limit.”  

The EPA rule, which sets minimum protective standards for coal ash storage, is scheduled to go into effect in October. In anticipation of this, some members of Congress have worked to undermine provisions of the rule through legislative means. In particular, a proposed bill would undercut important protections and key public information provisions in the EPA rule, leaving regulation largely to the state. After witnessing many state agencies fail to act around coal ash for decades, Holleman has reservations about this approach, but knows a minimum national standard can shore up the power of the rule. 

“The reality is that the state agencies are very reluctant and will not, as we have seen, enforce the law by themselves against the most politically powerful and wealthy institutions in the state legislative capitols,” said Holleman. “We want to have adequate minimum standards that the citizens can enforce if the bureaucrats don’t.”

Video of Holleman’s full testimony is available below, along with a second video highlighting the inquiries he fielded from Senators during the question & answer period.