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Today, Sarah Jo posted a short, heartfelt diary asking anyone, everyone to do what they can to get their Senators to vote against U.S. Senate Bill 1751. This bill would weaken the EPA’s ability to regulate toxic coal ash generated as waste by coal-burning electric power plants.

This bill hits close to home for some Missourians in Franklin County. Last week Sarah Jo wrote about the final defeat of the long struggle to keep Ameren from building a coal ash landfill next to its Labadie power plant, which is smack dab in the midst of a floodplain. Declaring that she didn’t “know whether to scream or cry,” she pointed out once again, the absurdity of situating a toxic dump at this site which, she noted, was surrounded by water as recently as the 1993 flood.

Yesterday, as if to underline the nature of the risk we’re running just so power companies like Ameren can satisfy their shareholders, tons of coal ash, used in Michigan to fill in a ravine in the 1950s, slid into Lake Michigan when a bluff overlooking the lake collapsed. Coal ash, in case you’ve forgotten, is chock full of of cancer-causing goodies such as mercury, cadmium and arsenic.

But there’s no need for Michiganders – and by extension Missourians faced with a coal ash landfill in a floodplain – to worry. We Energies, the company that is responsible for the unregulated “reuse” of coal ash – sparing the state the expense and trouble of finding landfill space for the noxious stuff – has flatly stated that “coal ash is not hazardous material. It is unlikely there will be any health impacts at all from this event.”  

Whew! If I hadn’t read that reassuring statement, I might have been worried by those EPA scientists who tell us that, “without proper protections, these contaminants can leach into groundwater and can migrate to drinking water sources, posing significant health public concerns.” Or, even worse, I might have taken seriously those scare-mongering environmentalists in the Sierra Club, who responded to the Michigan disaster by claiming*:

The EPA has been trying to enact national protections to stop this kind of disastrous spill from happening again, ever since the TVA disaster in 2008, and our Congress has been blocking them every step of the way,” said Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “As a result, communities across the nation remain at risk and unprotected. This spill in the Great Lakes is a tragic reminder of why the status quo is not good enough. As long as Congress interferes, spills like this are going to happen, and dozens of communities are at risk. Congress needs to back off and allow the EPA to finalize strong protections.”

Sheesh! Who’s going to believe scientists and environmentalists when we’ve got a bottom-line businessman telling us we’ve got nothing to worry about.

*Sentence edited slightly for clarity.