Congressman Cohen Introduces Ensuring the Safe Disposal of Coal Ash Act

April 8, 2021
Press Release
Aim is to strengthen environmental protections gutted by Trump EPA

MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today introduced the Ensuring the Safe Disposal of Coal Ash Act, strengthening protections against coal ash contamination by rectifying deficiencies in the 2015 Coal Ash Rule weakened by the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Congressman Cohen made the following statement:

“I have been acutely aware of the dangers of coal ash contamination because of the disastrous 2008 coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee, and the unacceptably slow clean up of the contaminated groundwater beneath coal ash pits at TVA’s Allen Fossil Plant in my own district. This plant is now identified as one of the most-contaminated sites in the country. The measure I am introducing strengthens protections outlined in the 2015 Coal Ash Rule and protects communities by mandating safer and faster disposal of this dangerous waste product of electricity production.”

“This legislation aims to correct decades of coal ash mismanagement that has left communities around the country exposed to the toxic chemicals in our waterways,” said Christine Santillana, Legislative Counsel at Earthjustice. “This is an exciting opportunity and we applaud Congressman Cohen for working to ensure the already-passed law is serving our communities, not the coal industry.”

The Ensuring the Safe Disposal of Coal Ash Act would require that any EPA-approved coal ash program conduct air monitoring and limit the amount of fugitive dust at coal ash sites, which is toxic and, when inhaled, can become lodged in lungs, causing asthma, lung disease, and cancer.

The industry’s own data reveal that more than 91 percent of coal ash ponds across the U.S. are polluting groundwater with toxic metals like arsenic, cobalt, and lithium at unsafe levels. The bill addresses this issue by denying utilities seeking permits to close their ponds if coal ash would remain in place and continue leaking into the groundwater. It also places financial accountability on utilities for cleanup by requiring permits or approval of all ponds that have not been closed.

The Ensuring the Safe Disposal of Coal Ash Act would also ensure EPA-approved state coal ash programs are as protective as the federal regulations. The bill further compels the agency to finalize rulemakings requiring state programs to include meaningful public participation and transparency, and adopt requirements to protect low-income and communities of color plagued by coal ash contamination.