One month since the EPA's stolid road warriors blew threw Arlington to get your thoughts on pollution from gas drilling, the agency's making its triumphant return to Dallas today with an all-day public comment session at the Hyatt Regency downtown that kicks off in about an hour. This time 'round, the environmental scourge du jour is leftover coal ash from power plants.
When they can, power plants sell off the ash to cement makers, but whatever they can't sell ends up in landfills and ash ponds, which have a nasty way of leaking heavy metal discharges into nearby lakes and rivers, or (rarely!) rupturing completely, unleashing a billion-gallon flood of toxic sludge.
Dallas is the third of seven stops the EPA is making for public comment on coal ash disposal, and the agency's two proposals for tightening regulations: either tightening safety regulations in existing surface ash ponds, or phasing them out entirely and burying coal ash in landfills instead. The list of speakers already signed up is long on Sierra Clubbers, electricity and mining company reps and concrete manufacturers. As quoted last month in the Texas Tribune, the Sierra Club says Texas is the second-most prolific coal ash producer in the country.
La Grange's Fayette Power Plant in Central Texas is one of 39 cases of "improperly disposed coal combustion waste" named in a Sierra Club report released late last month. That report cites data from TCEQ's groundwater monitoring last year, which found high levels of heavy metals like selenium, arsenic, aluminum and "the big Mo," molybdenum; as one industry spokesman pointed out, though, the report leaps from contaminated groundwater samples like those to presumptions that the nearby drinking water's polluted too.
A 2007 EPA report also listed three East Texas power plant cooling reservoirs as "proven damage cases" from coal ash: Welsh Reservoir, Martin Creek Lake and Brandy Branch Reservoir, all of which, according to the report, had fish with dangerously high selenium levels thanks to open ash dumps nearby. The Luminant plant at Martin Lake, incidentally, is wrapped up in a suit filed last Thursday by the Sierra Club.
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You can sign up online to speak at today's hearing, or call (703) 308-8429.