Coal fly ash is a radioactive and extremely dangerous material, but one of the most frustrating things I know about is that there are no federal regulations governing its storage or transport, because coal companies still rule our politics.
That leaves it up to state regulators like PA’s Department of Environmental Protection to decide how to regulate coal ash sludge, and they don’t. We actually know this stuff is getting into the groundwater, and again, it’s radioactive material.
Unfortunately, even though the West Virginia water poisoning madness gave them a perfect opening to raise the issue, the organizations who hosted last week’s Sustainability Forum didn’t ask about coal ash at all, even as they focused exclusively on supply-side energy generation issues. But let’s not forget that coal is still a much much bigger polluter in PA than natural gas.
By the way, don’t let anybody tell you this is a free market issue. This is about property rights plain and simple, as Dean Baker points out.
If I ran a business and decided to save myself some money by throwing all my garbage on your property instead of paying a trash hauler to dispose of it, the cops would stop me from doing that (unless it happened to be a vacant lot in Philadelphia!) But that’s exactly what the coal companies are asserting their right to do, and we’re actually letting them do it.
The next Democratic Governor needs to make coal companies pay to dispose of this stuff responsibly, and stop letting them store it in open air basins.
Just for reference, here’s what it looks like when a coal ash spill happens:
Here’s what it looks like when Freedom Industries dumps toxic chemicals in your river:
And here’s what a wind turbine malfunction looks like: