Now It’s Coal Ash

The Trump administration has announced its intention to roll back an Obama-era regulation that limited the leaching of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury into water supplies–heavy metals that are produced and leach into groundwater from the ash residue produced by coal-fired power plants.

I wrote about the dangers of coal ash back in 2015, quoting the Hoosier Environmental Council when they were bringing in a coal ash expert to speak at their annual “Greening the Statehouse” event.

Coal ash has special significance for Indiana, since the state leads the nation in the number of coal ash waste lagoons. There is arguably no person better in America to speak to this issue than Lisa Evans. As a coal ash expert with twenty-five years of experience in hazardous waste law, Lisa has testified before the U.S. Congress and the National Academies of Science about the risks of coal ash and federal & state policy solutions.

The Obama Administration addressed those very real risks by passing new regulations in 2015; now, a series of newer rules expected from  the Environmental Protection Agency (courtesy of the former lobbyists now running the agency) will substantially weaken  regulations meant to strengthen inspection and monitoring at coal plants, and requiring plants to install new technology to protect water supplies from contaminated coal ash.

The E.P.A. will even exempt a significant number of power plants from any of the remaining requirements, according to quotations from people familiar with the Trump administration plan.

According to one report, 

Coal ash, the residue from burning coal, is stored at more than 1,100 locations around the nation, with about 130 million tons being added each year. Unlike emissions of carbon dioxide, which many climate science deniers consider a good thing, nobody doubts the dangers of the chemicals in coal ash—including arsenic, lead, mercury, and selenium, among others. All are associated with birth defects and stunted brain growth in children. But the list of damages they can cause is far longer and includes cancer, heart damage, lung disease, respiratory distress, kidney disease, reproductive problems, gastrointestinal illness, and behavioral problems.

Hundreds of ash storage pits don’t even have a simple liner to help prevent toxins from leaching into waterways. According to a 2010 EPA assessment, people who live within a mile of unlined coal ash ponds have a 1 in 50 risk of cancer. That’s more than 2,000 times higher than what the EPA considers acceptable. Tainting of the water mostly happens in a trickle. But, occasionally, as in the 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant’s sudden release of 1.1 billion gallons of coal slurry in Tennessee, or the leakage of 82,000 tons of coal ash into North Carolina’s Dan River, the contamination comes in a catastrophic rush.

Environmental activists criticized the 2015 rule, arguing that it fell short of what is needed to effectively deal with coal ash, and failed to classify the ash as a hazardous waste, which it obviously is. It was a step forward, however.

For every forward step taken by the Obama Administration, however, Trump’s “best people” take two steps back.

Like so many efforts being made daily by the Trump Administration, this move prioritizes the bottom line of industry over the health and welfare of citizens. In this case, that preference is especially galling, because it is intended to help an industry that is dying–and dying  thanks to market forces, not excessive regulations. Nor should its death be lamented: coal is a contributor to climate change, and the relatively few remaining jobs in coal mining are unacceptably dangerous.

Once again we are reminded that nothing this administration does–nothing–advances the common good, or makes environmental or even business sense.


  1. This is simply the continuation of the Republican Party’s pay back to the dirty industries that support them. Living in that bubble of self-deception Republicans and their leaders fail to see that any of this is going to harm them and their children for decades to come.

  2. Poor little Donnie! He’s willing to destroy the country in his quest to rollback all the regulations adopted under the Administration of our first Black president who shamed him at the Correspondence Dinner a few years ago. Is it bigotry or jealousy? It really doesn’t matter. It’s sick and it’s dangerous.

  3. It appears we Don’t have time to comment as that period to write or call ended last month. I’d still call to complain about this ruling or change

  4. I was just screaming at the TV this morning when Trump was on speaking about the economy and his astounding success in that regard. “AT WHAT PRICE???” This is one example of many! Wake up folks!

  5. Thanks, Don! Now we can add cancer to your suffocation list. I am the son of a coal miner and lived (variously) within sight of a “tipple,” where the coal brought in from the pit is cleaned and reloaded for mainline delivery to customers. On hot days, I recall seeing gray dust being expelled from the tipple. Given such exposure it’s a miracle that I am still among the living. Perhaps it’s because there was little demand for coal during the Great Depression and the mines were shut down most of the time (if there is any good feature to a depression).

    It’s too bad that Trump enjoys political immunity to indictment, because he is literally killing us in order to reward his ever profit-seeking corporate contributors.

  6. Indiana and North Carolina voters keep voting republicans into office who are willing to sell their own souls to the devil while destroying the lives, health and finances of their constituents in order to obtain personal power and wealth.

    Evil pervades and wins.

  7. Having worked for IPL and a majority of their power is from coal, I can tell you coal ash is nasty. It contains among other things, arsenic and mercury in significant concentrations. The employee training is very explicit about the hazards of exposure to coal ash and a coal burning plant produces tons of it.

    To get coal ash out of the plant, it is mixed with water into a slurry, and pumped through pipes to ash settling ponds. These are man made lakes with earthen dikes. As the ash settles, the water can be pumped off to be recirculated, or in the case of of IPL’s ponds, some of it leaches into the ground in unlined ponds.

    IPL has three sites with major coal ash ponds. The Petersburg Indiana site is still active. Both the Indianapolis Harding Street plant and the Martinsville Eagle Valley plant no longer burn coal, but the ponds are all still there right next to White river.

    You might have seen stories in the news a few years ago about houses not too far from the Indianapolis Harding Street power plant with contaminated wells. Of course the standard answer, is along the lines of you can’t prove it was us that contaminated the ground water.

    About 15-20 years ago the Martinsville plant had an old and under maintained dike rupture and spilled coal ash slurry into the White River. I think this caused a significant fish kill on the White River.

    Not only do unlined coal ash ponds leach toxic chemicals into the ground, they can often pollute waterways directly. They are just environmental time-bombs and at some point somebody is going to have to pay for the clean up. The more ground water that is contaminated, the more it will cost in so many ways.

  8. Sandy,

    You are correct. Trump’s pathology is such that he will kill us all so that he can somehow avenge Obama. This is what psychopath racists do. Trump should be wearing a sheet and hood.

    The scourge of uncontrolled and unregulated capitalism is now being orchestrated by the most inept and truly evil person we’ve ever seen in this country. Well done, voters.

  9. Coal Ash >> Another example of negative externality.

    What Is an Externality?
    An externality is an economic term referring to a cost or benefit incurred or received by a third party. However, the third party has no control over the creation of that cost or benefit.

    Pastor Pence and his family unloaded an Externality onto the people:
    July 14, 2018: Cleanup of Pence family gas stations cost Indiana more than $20 million

    In a statement, Pence’s older brother Greg Pence — who was president of Kiel Bros. when it went bankrupt and is now running for Congress as a Republican — distanced himself from the cleanup costs.

    I guess you could say given President Agent Orange’s numerous bankruptcies in Pastor Pence he found a bird of the same feather – You know they flock together.

  10. i live near a open pit mine,, bni center,n.d, (minnkota powerplant)they have to move the thin strip of soil, about 2 feet, and carry that to a pile, and store it for reclamation. then they dig 90 feet down to two strips of lignite coal, one about 20 feet and the other about 8 feet of coal.. then they return the coal ash to the botton of the pit. the bottom, is also many feet down of hard solid clay. the clay removed ,(i have augered for fence posts on my property,it so hard the hole looks like its polishes when i pull the auger back up..)is then they return the clay back to the pit, and then reclaim the soil,and under computer design,from the actual form of the topsoil, place it back nearly as it was, the land owner can ask it to be level enough for farming.. the water tracks and ponds restored. ive seen how hilly the mid west area for coal extraction can be, but, here we do insist on restoring as it was,and to bury the ash..why didnt the places mentioned in the above intro,do that? some coal ash is refined to use as a additive to highway and bridge construction. it makes the concrete hard,and sustain impact better.. no defense here, i once fueled the equipment at this mine, 10,000 gallons of diesel a day…to run the equipment just to reclaim it, and maintain a mining safe enviroment..lignite is the dirties coal to use. we have a megga gas field here and no one seems to be interested in changing this. once remarked here, we have a tesla in bismarck,with a personalized plate supporting coal,via the state dot,(vanity) and the back window it has a wrap that says, this vehicle powered by coal! with a drag line in the picture now go figure…. one step up, we have a few hundred windtowers by FPL around this power plant also…..wyoming passed a law,that forbids the use of its own renewable wind generation to be sold in wyo,,wyo(r)cheney is so proud…

  11. Yet another example of what is going on “behind the Tweets”. Too bad the press dwells so much on his hourly online reality show. Biggest shame of all – yesterday the NY Times wasted their time and money with a hooge special section analyzing all the episodes – SAD! Plays right into his hands. Thought they were a bit smarter than that – entertainment, not facts, sell…

  12. To the Trump administration (or lack thereof) everyone outside of the family is a source of family revenue, either through taxes to support that half of his day job or for the ability to enhance the family businesses, the other half of his current employment. The kids are in the office to integrate the two halfs. They of course only follow one rule, make more money now regardless of the impact on any others ever, and balancing the two income streams to optimize both is a full time job for Eric and Ivanka while dad diverts public attention away from the Great Robbery. Taxes from the wealth creating workers, business opportunity instead of taxes from the wealth collectors.

    Their main skill is to stay one step ahead of accountability and to help with that they pay a bevy of lawyers, including the US Dept of Justice under Bill Barr (he’s as loyal to the family as a blood member).

    The wealth sucking ability of the family rivals even the largest drug and human trafficking cartels in the Americas and the lawyers are as effective as the drug cartel enforcers in keeping accountability away from the door. It’s all so civilized the Trump Way.

    Unfortunately many Americans are unable to protect themselves from both the drug and political “businesses” and lead lives of despair from both.

    The haves vs the have nots. As old as the invention of wealth.

  13. As Nancy and others have pointed out, if we had a moral governor in Indiana, he would be protesting at the highest levels. We don’t!

    The GOP has sold us out entirely to industry, which is why the only rankings Indiana receives is CEO Satisfaction.

    It also means our industry is corrupt and void of morals. “Profit over people.” “No social responsibility.”

    And how do VOTERS respond to being murdered by industry and politicians?

    We keep voting for them.

    What does that say about the citizens of the USA?

    At least if you are going to poison us, provide us with affordable health care so we don’t go bankrupt getting the help we need from medical professionals.

    “Sorry, we have to worry about health industry profits.”

    And both political parties agree to place profits over people. “Of the people, by the people, for the people” is literally a sick joke.

    Meanwhile, our media’s watchdogs are hunting down crooked insurance agents and drug dealing doctors. LOL


  14. To some extent, this problem is solving itself. Murray, the nation’s biggest coal company has just gone into bankruptcy, as have 8 others this year. The process is too slow and the contaminants long lasting, but we’re not standing still.

    On another subject, good examples of “externalities” are federal subsidies to fossil fuel companies that are among the leading polluters and make billions in profits. Tax payers pick up the bill, but derive no benefit from it. Perhaps an even better one is the plastics industry which imposes a degraded environment and clean up costs on all of us while enjoying immunity from cleaning up after themselves. All of this accords nicely with the American version of capitalism which is like Robinhood only backwards.

  15. One of the bad things about bankruptcy is that those doing it leave behind their messes and bills for others to deal with.

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