Randy Ellis of TN Speaks Out on EPA Coal Ash Rule Delay

Guest Blog | June 21, 2012 | Coal, Energy Justice, Energy Policy

The following is an opinion editorial authored by Randy Ellis and published in the Tennessean on June 20, 2012. Randy is a sixth-generation Roane County resident representing the Harriman, South Harriman, Midtown, Emory Heights and Swan Pond communities as a Republican Roane County commissioner for District 2. Ellis is in debt management leadership with EdFinancial Services.

This Op-Ed piece marks the second anniversary and ongoing delay since the Environmental Protection Agency proposed coal ash safeguards. See here and here for additional attention to this unfortunate anniversary.


Coal-ash regulation may be weakened

Roane Country struggles 3½ years after TVA spill

Randy Ellis

Roane County is not that different from other small Tennessee communities. We care about our families, our community and our economy. Things do move a little more slowly here than in some other places.

As a sixth-generation Roane County resident, I’m used to that pace. As a member of the Roane County Commission, I know that taking things slowly means more deliberation in order to make good decisions for the community. But there has to be a limit.

It has now been 3½ years since my community was devastated by the largest coal-ash disaster in history. It’s been two years this week since the Environmental Protection Agency proposed safeguards to prevent future disasters. This isn’t deliberation — this is delay — and people with coal ash dumps in their backyards cannot wait any longer.

The Roane County disaster released more than 1 billion gallons of ash into our yards, water and air. Nearly four years later, we haven’t fully recovered. The water is getting clearer and homes have been repaired or purchased by the Tennessee Valley Authority, but the memories still impact our housing prices and morale in our community.

Worse still, the Roane County coal ash disaster was not the only one of its kind. There are nearly 200 known cases of water contamination caused by irresponsible coal ash disposal all across the country — cases where pollutants like arsenic, mercury and chromium enter the water that people drink and where people fish, swim and play.

In December 2009, the area around the TVA Kingston plant was still desolate a year after the coal-ash spill. Roane County today still struggles with the aftermath of the disaster. / JOHN PARTIPILO / file / THE TENNESSEAN

After the Roane County disaster we believed that the EPA would protect communities because, at the time, the disaster was the biggest spill of any type in U.S. history and fresh on everyone’s minds. As the years go by without any federal action, the disaster may fade for people in D.C. or even Nashville, but not for us in Roane County.

I am often a strong advocate for less regulation, but large corporations like TVA obviously need strict oversight. Our memories are not fading. Instead, our frustration is growing, because we know that politicians can move fast when they want to. But if big polluters are calling the shots, progress and protections are easily delayed.

It was only one year after EPA proposed coal-ash safeguards that U.S. Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia introduced a bill to undermine EPA’s efforts and remove their authority to address the ash problem. Since then, Rep. McKinley’s dangerous legislation has become part of the federal transportation bill and is on the verge of becoming law.

Something is terribly wrong here. We need Congress to understand the dangers of ash the way we in Roane County do. Congress must allow EPA to move forward, and fast, not only where the damage is already done, but also for the other communities that have to deal with coal ash pollution. President Obama and Congress: Please protect us against coal ash with strong, federal enforceable safeguards. No community should have to deal with what we in Roane County are dealing with.

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