Toxic Waste: Coal Ash

Coal ash, which contains many of the world’s worst carcinogens, is the waste left over when coal is burnt for electricity.

An estimated 113 million tons of coal ash are produced annually in the US, mostly from America’s coal power-plants. Coal Ash is found and stored in almost every state — some of it literally in people’s backyards.

There is very little government oversight and few safeguards in place, so toxic chemicals have been known to leak from these storage sites and into nearby communities, contaminating drinking water and making residents sick.

VICE News visited the areas most affected by this toxic waste.


Does Lundergan Grimes Have A Chance?

“Coal keeps the lights on in Kentucky—plain and simple—and I will not stand idle as overreaching regulation adversely impacts jobs and middle-class families,” Grimes said. “Any new regulations must take into account the impact on Kentucky jobs and be based on current technology that will not drive Kentucky coal out of business.”

“I stand for coal, I stand by the 15,000 men and women whose jobs are at stake and I will continue to fight for them if elected.”

These are quotes from Alison Lundergan Grimes of Kentucky, who is running for Senate against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Coal is still the source of 92 percent of Kentucky’s electricity and brings in $3.5 billion in export revenue.   And it provides 15,000 jobs.

Is it possible to support the coal industry in Kentucky and be a Democrat?  Is it possible for Democrats from outside the state to support it?

Are there options?

In the U.S. Senate, the Natural Resources and Energy Committee approved a largely symbolic measure on Feb. 17 to make Kentucky a “sanctuary state” for the coal industry by exempting mines and power plants from “the overreaching regulatory power” of the EPA.

Under the bill, the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet would go so far as to issue permits to coal mines previously denied by the EPA because of concerns over water pollution.

This doesn’t sound like a particularly good option.

The counterpart in the House approved a bill that seemed to be an effort towards a middle ground.  It would exempt Kentucky mines which produce coal for the state’s use — not for export — from federal Clean Water Act requirements. Legislators contend they are protecting states’ rights.

Is supporting natural gas an alternative?  Greg Pauley, president and COO of Kentucky Power says his company will be burning less coal in the future, wherever it comes from. “As the cost of using coal continues to rise, we go away from that,” he says. “And what do we go away to? Right now we go to gas.”

It is unclear what other options exist or if subsidies could be made available to help companies reach pollution goals.

What is clear is the “realpolitik.”   If Democrats want Lundergan Grimes to win, they have to find options and ways to sustain coal jobs in Kentucky, make them relevant, or find alternative job sources.