Archive for the 'Making Democracy Work' Category

Virginia’s Big Ash Problem

By Michael Bochynski, Clean Water Action Virginia Program Organizer

Virginia Conservation Network in partnership with Clean Water Action, the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, and EarthJustice released a new report that is the first comprehensive examination of coal ash sites in Virginia and regulatory options for managing coal ash disposal practices. The report clearly demonstrates that every major region of Virginia contains coal ash ponds that are leaking, unstable and have exceeded their projected lifespan by an average of seven years; creating the potential for major environmental catastrophe. Download the report here.

Coal ash, industrial waste generated when coal is burned for energy, is the second largest source of waste stream in the U.S. A long list of harmful heavy metals, including arsenic, mercury, nickel, lead, cadmium and selenium, are found in this waste stream. Human exposure to these metals, even at low levels, has been linked in scientific studies to cancer, respiratory problems, neurological difficulties and gastrointestinal disease. Numerous documented cases of coal ash contamination of groundwater, surface water, and drinking water sources have occurred in the Commonwealth, posing a danger to the health of Virginians and our environment.

Why has this happened? Aren’t there safeguards in place to protect us? The problem is coal ash disposal sites are almost always located in close proximity to rivers, creeks, and streams because coal-fired power plants require large quantities of water, and operators typically dispose of coal ash on-site. Many of these coal ash waste sites are not lined or capped (to prevent leaching of heavy metals) because they predate both modern state and federal solid waste disposal safeguards. In addition, current Virginia regulatory programs continue to lack many basic safeguards to prevent coal ash from polluting water, air and endangering communities. The reason for this is that the industry has fought for decades to block pollution control standards such as storing coal ash in dry landfills that are properly lined and sited far away from water sources, monitoring to ensure contaminants don’t leach into surface or groundwater, and covering waste sites to prevent the blowing of toxic dust.

Coal ash, scientifically speaking, is absolutely a hazardous waste, and classifying it as such would address many of the storage problems we currently face. Under pressure from utility companies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided in 1993 and 2000 that coal ash should be regulated as a non-hazardous waste and be subject to the same disposal guidelines as household garbage! In response to several catastrophic coal ash spills such as the 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant disaster that dumped over a billion gallons of toxic slurry into two Tennessee rivers and buried several homes, the EPA issued the first-ever federal coal ash regulation in December 2014. Although the proposed coal ash rule addresses some of the current lax state regulations regarding coal ash storage, EPA and the Obama Administration once again caved to lobbying by utility companies and failed to classify coal ash as a hazardous waste.

So what can we do? For starters, tell President Obama you want EPA to issue a strong rule that will require utilities to clean-up all of their waste, not just some of it. States can also issue stronger regulations than the federal minimum standards, so send the same message to Governor McAuliffe, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and your local elected officials.

What’s at stake is the drinking water sources for millions of Virginia residents. In August 2014, the Virginia-Pilot documented the presence of arsenic in groundwater at a Chesapeake, VA coal ash site at up to FORTY TIMES the state’s safety standards. Water testing at the Possum Point Power Plant in Dumfries, VA showed that heavy metals continue to leak from coal ash ponds nearly fifty years after the last deposit of new waste. The 2014 Duke Energy coal ash disaster in North Carolina impacted the drinking water sources for Virginia communities downstream from the spill, and reminds us that these ponds, especially as they age, are disasters waiting to happen. As long as coal ash remains along the banks of our waterways, it will continue to leak dangerous pollutants into state waters. The Virginia General Assembly must not allow any further weakening of existing state protections to coal ash, and must strengthen and enforce state protections. Coal ash ponds require strict permitting and siting requirements, and the state should require the removal of all coal ash to dry, lined storage facilities away from our rivers and drinking water supplies.

The Dirty Water Rampage in Congress Continues

NATL_WaterInfo_Pieces_1By Lynn Thorp, National Campaigns Director – Follow Lynn on Twitter (@LTCWA)

As we reported two weeks ago, the U.S. House of Representatives is on a rampage against a wide range of environmental protections and progress. After approving a laundry list of harmful amendments to a federal agency spending bill the week before last, the U.S. House adjourned until today when they will get right back to work. Up this evening is the “Regulatory Integrity Protection Act” (H.R. 1732). This bill blocks commonsense policy to ensure that all of our nation’s water bodies are protected by Clean Water Act programs. You can learn more about this ridiculous bill from our colleague Jon Devine at the Natural Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC) here. You can use the really cool new Tweet Tool here to let your Representative know how you feel about protecting clean water.

It’s going to be a long hot summer here in DC if today’s 91 degrees is any indication. It would be cool if you would stay tuned and stay involved.

How I spent my Earth Day. How’d you spend yours?

By Will Fadely, Baltimore Program Organizer – Follow Will on Twitter (@TrillChillWill)

April offers a unique opportunity for community members to recognize the importance of stewardship of their local environment and waterways. Residents are eager to shake off ‘Old Man Winter’, strap on their boots and get to their nearest stream or green space and get cleaning. Clean Water coordinated a variety of events for Baltimore residents to give back to the Chesapeake Bay.

On Earth Day, joined by the Towson University Environmental Science and Studies Club, the EcoReps, Office of Sustainability & student volunteers we took on the Towson Run stream, as part of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Project Clean Stream.IMG_1176

Cleaning from the Residence Tower to the Baseball field we collected and sorted ten pounds of trash, plastic & glass, and aluminum.

Now if any of you reading this are alumnae or have ever been on campus, you know that stream connects the bar scene and northern part of campus leading to many dorms and on campus apartments.

Most of what we found was leftovers from parties on the way to the bar or leftovers from the bar on the way to the after-party. But, that’s college and who’s to say we all haven’t celebrated after a test or term-paper.

IMG_1194Student passersby were interested in sorting trash appropriately and even stopped to ask questions about the importance of composting and how they might do it on campus.

Saturday brought a day of cleaning illegal dumping sites, green spaces, gutters, and adding some color to our communities by stenciling our most polluted storm drains in Hampden and Westport.

Starting in Westport, we worked with community members to clean Annapolis Road, the main street in the community, stencil storm drains throughout the resident’s neighborhoods, and even cleared litter and debris from the future green space hosting the new Westport Farmer’s Market.

Residents driving by pulled over to help clean and stencil the storm drains because they “are tired of people treating the drains like trashcans,” says Keisha Allen, President, Westport Neighborhood Association.IMG_1218

While the cleanup was underway in Westport, Clean Water coordinated another cleanup in Hampden, partnering with the Hampden Community Council and Towson University’s Big Event. Clean Water volunteers scrubbed and stenciled storm drains along Falls Road, encouraging residents “Don’t Dump” because it “Drains to the Chesapeake Bay,” expressed by the stencils.

Leading 15 volunteers from TU’s Pasión dance team through Hampden, Amy (Clean Water intern), split volunteers up to take on nearly a dozen storm drains. “Residents were coming out of their houses to ask us if they could help clean up,” says Amy. “It was a great opportunity to educate residents on the effects polluted runoff has on their local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.”IMG_1188








Later that afternoon, we returned to South Baltimore for a Concert for Fair Development celebrating a recent victory in securing divestments from a toxic waste-to-energy incinerator just one mile from elementary and high schools, playgrounds and resident’s homes.

The Baltimore Regional Cooperative Purchasing Committee (BRCPC) was the sole investor in the Energy Answers incinerator, consisting of 22 state entities aligned to receive energy from the WTE Incinerator.

Through a coalition of advocates, Clean Water helped secure the divestment of the 22 entities, leaving Energy Answers without financial support.IMG_1202










The afternoon kicked off with a parade to support fair development in South Baltimore, followed by a concert from local residents.

IMG_1217A BIG THANK YOU to all our Earth Week 2015 partners and contributors: Towson University Big Event; TU EcoReps; TU Environmental Science & Studies Club; Westport Neighborhood Association, Hampden Community Council; Baltimore Community Toolbank; & MD Department of Natural Resources.

This Week in Congressional Dirty Water Rampage

By Lynn Thorp, National Campaigns Director (Follow Lynn on Twitter – @LTCWA)

NATL_WaterInfo_Pieces_2The Congressional rampage against protecting clean water, public health, clean air, wildlife and our national heritage continues this week.

First up are funding appropriations for federal agencies, always an opportunity to use the power of the Congressional purse to interfere with ongoing efforts to clean up water pollution and address other important health and environmental issues. This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016 (H.R. 2028), which includes the Department of Energy, the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and more. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Personal: Calling on Walgreens for a Safe Chemical Policy

By Cindy Luppi, New England Regional Director

This post was originally published at Women’s Voices for the Earth

Cindy Luppi
Cindy and partners recently delivered over 135,000 petition signatures collected nationally to Walgreens stores in Hartford and Boston.

I feel really fortunate to live in the kind of community where your neighbors are a  cornerstone of your life — we get together for coffee on Saturday mornings in our pj’s, we take care of each others’ pets when someone goes away to travel, and we share our family life. In the past 5 years, my two closest neighbors and I have all lost our moms to cancer. Our 3 moms grew up in different areas, had very different lives, struggled in different ways with 3 different kinds of cancer. But the bottom line is that as neighbors, we tried to help hold the pieces together as we each struggled with first taking care of our moms and then learning how to live without our moms after they passed away. There wasn’t a specific chemical spill that had exposed our moms to cancer-causing chemicals, they didn’t work together in a potentially sick building, and none of them had a family history of cancer.  So how did this happen? How is it that all of us lost our moms too early in our lives? Why are cancer rates, and rates of other chronic disorders linked to toxic chemicals like learning disabilities so elevated population-wide? Read the rest of this entry »

Burning Tires (Hazardous is the New Clean)

By Denny Green, Michigan Office Manager and Communications Coordinator

This post originally appeared on Eclectablog

You know that warm, cozy feeling you get from seeing black toxic plumes of smoke billowing up from a pile of burning hazardous rubbish and industrial waste? (No, I didn’t think so.)

Well, earlier this month Republican State Representative Aric Nesbitt introduced an eight-bill package that redefine burning old tires as “renewable energy”. (Yes, you read that right.) This pack of reckless and irresponsible ideas flagrantly thumbs its nose at Michigan’s current renewable energy standard (which defines “renewable energy sources” as things like wind and solar … you know, real renewable energy). Read the rest of this entry »

EPA Analysis of Chemicals Used in Fracking Is a Study of the Unknown

By John Noël, National Oil & Gas Campaigns Coordinator – Follow John on Twitter (@Noel_Johnny)

While EPA is working to update existing regulations to modernize environmental protections as the oil and gas industry evolves, the Agency is also studying how the entire process of hydraulic fracturing potentially impacts drinking water. This includes tracking the whole lifecycle of fracking from where the water is acquired all the way through how it is disposed. Recently EPA published an analysis of chemicals the industry uses in its fracturing fluid cocktail. According to EPA, the analysis of the industry funded FracFocus database was intended “to better understand the chemicals and water used to hydraulically fracture oil and gas production wells in the United States and how chemical and water use vary in different locations across the country.”

There is one key detail that tends to overshadow the results — the database is largely incomplete due to the industry’s ability to withhold critical information about the chemicals used. In fact, 1 in 10 chemicals were claimed as trade secrets and not disclosed and 70 percent of wells had at least 1 chemical withheld as a trade secret. A study published by Harvard Law School last year outlines in greater detail the drawbacks of relying on FracFocus as a dependable regulatory tool. Read the rest of this entry »

Closing the Gap: Help Keep Oil & Gas Wastewater Pollution Out of our Lakes, Rivers and Bays

By John Noël, National Oil & Gas Campaigns Coordinator – Follow John on Twitter (@Noel_Johnny)

This week EPA proposed an update to a 30 year old Clean Water Act program that regulates oil and gas wastewater discharges to sewage treatment plants, or publically owned treatment works (POTWs). In the past we know that oil and gas companies have sent millions of gallons of wastewater to these plants which then discharge it to local rivers, lakes and bays.

The problem is that these sewage plants were never designed to treat wastewater coming from unconventional oil and gas operations, that is, those using fracking or other modern technologies which allow the industry to access previously unreachable oil and gas reserves. Unconventional production generally is code for the majority of new oil and gas wells drilled today. Read the rest of this entry »

Hold the phones! Literally

By Cindy Luppi, New England Regional Director

Lula Pearl is making the call. Will you?

Join Lula Pearl and make the call today!

Call your Senators Today: To call your Member of Congress: US Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121 

You may not have noticed yet but there’s an epic battle about to break wide open and onto the floors of Congress regarding our nation’s chemical safety policies. The chemical industry would like to preserve as much of the status quo as possible, with few restrictions on how they produce and distribute chemicals. The nation’s leading health and environmental groups are pushing for common sense updates that reflect modern science and protect our families from toxic chemicals in every day products like children’s toys and couch cushions.

This battle will answer critical questions like how soon we can expect protection from  asbestos and other toxic chemicals with strong links to cancer or learning disabilities.  Will there be stringent enforcement of the law that ultimately passes, or will follow through be crippled by blocking the usual role of state officials? Will there be loopholes that allow years of stalling and foot dragging from the Exxon Mobiles and Dow Chemicals of the world,  or will the Environmental Protection Agency be given the tools they need to move on health-based decisions about toxic chemicals? Read the rest of this entry »

Americans Agree: #CleanWaterRules

Protect Clean Water Today!By Jennifer Peters – National Water Programs Director – Follow Jennifer on Twitter (@EarthAvenger)

Nothing is more fundamental than clean water. Though many of us take it for granted until it dries up or becomes too polluted to use. Not only do we all depend on water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning, but water is the major economic driver in every sector in our economy. From farming to manufacturing to tourism, I bet you can’t think of a business that does not depend on clean water to thrive. Clean water is needed by everyone everywhere, all the time.

Despite our nation’s dependence on clean water, vital water sources have been at risk of pollution or destruction for more than a decade. This includes many of the streams and wetlands that feed the drinking water sources for 1 in 3 Americans. For the first thirty years of its existence our nation’s landmark Clean Water Act (CWA), clearly protected nearly every river, lake, bay, wetland or stream in the country. But in the early 2000’s the same polluters who opposed the original CWA were successful in getting the Bush administration to rollback protections for certain streams and wetlands. Clean Water Action and our partner organizations have been fighting to close these dangerous polluter loopholes ever since. Read the rest of this entry »

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