By Tiffany Hartung, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter
Clean energy means more than just clean air to breathe and cleaner water. It can also help to reduce greenhouse gases, a contributing cause of global warming. However, a commitment to clean energy requires walking away from dirty coal and instead investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy that will allow us to meet our energy needs while creating good Michigan jobs. Michigan is starting to move in that direction thanks to the leadership of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE) that recently rejected a permit for the construction of a new coal plant in Rogers City.
Sierra Club and our Clean Energy Now coalition partners lead an effort for citizens to get involved and take action helping to generate thousands of comments and technical filings to the Michigan Public Service Commission and MDNRE. Recommendations to deny the permit stemmed from the failure of the utilities to show that Michigan needs more energy in coming years. The utilities also failed to counter growing evidence that renewable energy and energy efficiency – and not dirty coal – could meet future needs.
Not only does coal energy generate air and water pollution, it leaves behind a toxic coal ash. Coal ash contains heavy metals like arsenic, selenium, lead, and mercury. Without adequate protection, coal ash toxins leak out of the waste and contaminate groundwater and surface water. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Academy of Sciences have years of research making it clear that coal ash is becoming an increasingly toxic threat to human health. Studies have shown that these dirty waste sites are so toxic that they can increase your cancer risk to as high as a staggering 1 in 50, that’s 2,000 times higher than what EPA considers acceptable.
Recently a Bay County, Michigan coal plant violated state law when it failed to monitor hazardous coal ash at its two landfills on the Saginaw Bay where coal ash leachate containing toxic chemicals have been previously discharged into Saginaw Bay from the sites.
The discovery of this violation comes on the heels of national pressure to put coal ash residues under federal law as hazardous waste. The EPA has recently issued two approaches: one would protect communities by regulating coal ash as hazardous waste and another would essentially leave the level of regulation up to individual states. The EPA is conducting hearings in locations around the country including one in Chicago on September 16th as well as taking comments (see side bar on how to send in your comments).
Preventing the construction of new coal power plants and classifying coal ash as hazardous waste are important steps toward a cleaner future. But Clean Energy needs more help, it needs a level playing field.
Coal is one of the most polluting sources of energy available. Weak regulations for air emissions and waste disposal allow for mercury to be spewed in air emissions that then fall into all our water bodies and limit how much fish we eat. They dispose of toxic coal ash waste less stringently than we dispose of our household waste. The coal industry has several regulatory loopholes that do not require adequate treatment. Join us in standing up to big coal and demanding a clean energy future.
Freshwater Future had the opportunity to help the Sierra Club, Michigan Chapter develop a strategic plan in 2009 to support their important work on clean energy, clean air, and clean water in Michigan. Freshwater Future can help your organization work more strategically too. Check out our services information on our website or contact us directly at 231-348-8200.
US EPA Coal Combustion Residuals Public Hearing: September 16 Hilton Chicago, 720 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60605
The EPA is asking people to pre-register if they would like to submit oral testimony at the hearing by Sept. 13th by going to http:// www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/industrial/special/fossil/ccr-rule/ccr-hearing.htm.
You can also submit written comments electronically to the EPA on the Sierra Club online website www.action.sierraclub.org/ nocoalash or www.regulations.gov. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, Attention Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–RCRA–2009–0640.