Five years since Kingston: Cane Run, Kentucky still waiting for solutions

Guest Blog | December 10, 2013 | Coal, Energy Policy

Two weeks from now marks the fifth anniversary of the Kingston coal ash spill, one of the worst environmental disasters in American history. In the weeks leading up to the anniversary, we are posting a series of blogs highlighting communities throughout the Southeast impacted by  coal ash and its detrimental effects. The rest of the series can be found here. Thanks to Kathy Little, resident of Cane Run, Kentucky, who contributed to this post.

Kathy Little with a picture of the cloud of coal ash that hangs over her neighborhood. Photo: EarthJustice

EPA has been dragging its feet for five years since the Kingston coal ash spill, and has yet to finalize any national coal ash regulations to protect communities, precious water resources and wildlife from America’s second largest industrial waste stream. While we wait for EPA action, hundreds of communities across the country are still at risk of catastrophic dam failures like the one at Kingston, and are exposed daily to heavy metals and other toxics from drinking water, eating fish and breathing air contaminated with coal ash; putting them at higher risk for cancer and other diseases.

The community of Cane Run, Kentucky has been living with, and getting sick from, coal ash from Louisville Gas & Electric’s Cane Run Power Station for years.

Kathy Little’s house faces the Cane Run Power Station which burns 1.3 million tons of coal every year, and produced 160,000 tons of coal ash in 2011. All that ash is stored in one wet pond and one landfill; an ever-growing mountain of the waste that is causing serious problems for Cane Run residents. Uncovered and unconfined, coal ash dust is constantly blowing offsite, coating neighbor’s homes and making them sick.

“They’ve put all this here,” Little said, “now we are going to have to live with this, with this toxic dump, is basically what it is. Even if they cover it up, it’s a toxic dump.” She describes what it means to live with coal ash:

Every child in my community is in danger, not just from the thick coal ash that covers everything, but also the high hazard ash pond just 50 yards from my home that might breach. However, we continue to wait without much needed protection.

Clean Air is a basic right, but when you live within 100 yards of one of the oldest and filthiest power plants, clean air is non-existent. I can often taste, smell and see the fly ash particulates blowing in the air. The consistency is of talc, the taste and smell is of sulfur. It is difficult to get off of our furniture, and I often wonder what these heavy metal particulates lodged in my child’s lungs are doing to her small body.

Some Cane Run residents used to be able to look across the Ohio River and see Indiana. Now, that view is blocked by an ever-growing mountain of coal ash.

It’s been years since former Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that the EPA would pursue federal regulations for coal-ash storage. Delaying a decision and pretending that the danger doesn’t exist is morally wrong. And legislation currently being brought forth depends on the states to make decisions. But do you truly think that the states are capable of providing crucial protection to their constituents? Actions speak louder than words. This is an issue we know how to resolve. It’s political and while this “game” continues to be played out in Congress, every day feels like a year for those of us caught in the middle.

I work for a pro-coal company and it’s not a good situation because of the public stance that I take. But I cannot let that deter me. Martin Luther King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I read that quote frequently and know I cannot and have not been silent.

–May, 2013

We couldn’t agree more with Ms.Little: It’s high time for sensible, science-based regulations that protect communities, precious water resources, and wildlife from coal ash pollution. Tell your representatives in Congress and EPA that we’ve waited long enough and that it’s time to stop the delays and finalize a coal ash rule before our nation experiences another another Kingston.

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