MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to deny Alabama’s coal ash permitting program, saying it puts waterways at risk of contamination.
Representatives from the agency came to Montgomery Wednesday to hear from concerned citizens and power companies about their proposal.
Coal ash is a byproduct of coal combustion. Without proper management, it can pollute waterways with harmful contaminants. The EPA is proposing that Alabama’s coal ash management policy does not meet federal standards.
EPA officials heard from the public, many of whom were supportive of their rejection of the program, such as former Wilsonville Mayor Lee McCarty. He said his community has been directly affected by this situation.
“We have 24 million tons of coal ash in Wilsonville,” McCarty said. “It’s toxic. We know it’s toxic.
McCarty said the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s (ADEM) policy of letting companies close coal ash ponds does not stop groundwater contamination.
“Capping it in place doesn’t do anything. It’s going to flow, flow, flow, into the river, into people’s wells, into people’s yards, into people’s livestock,” McCarty said.
This is what the EPA has said it wants to prevent. But utility representatives said ADEM’s policy was safe.
“I live right next to Mobile Bay, and I swim and fish in all of it. I think it’s safe,” said Blake Hardwich, executive director of the Energy Institute of Alabama.
Three members of the Energy Institute of Alabama – Alabama Power, Power South and TVA – have coal ash ponds.
Hardwich said that through the institute’s own independent study, they found no problems with the coal ash ponds. She also said the alternative — removing coal ash and trucking it to landfills, which other states have done — could have its own environmental consequences and take decades.
“To me, that’s more of a concern for a community to close down where it’s been safe and effective,” Hardwich said.
The EPA first announced its proposal to deny Alabama’s program in August, opening this public comment period.
The next hearing on the matter will be held virtually next Wednesday, September 27.
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