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Congressman Hank Johnson

Representing the 4th District of Georgia

Congressman Johnson passes amendment to protect public from coal ash

July 13, 2016
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – An amendment to the FY 2017 Interior Appropriations bill addressing the disparate impact of coal ash disposal proposed by Congressman Hank Johnson (GA-04) passed by voice vote on July 12. It represented the first time this year legislation highlighted the disproportionate impact unsafe coal ash disposal poses to low-income, rural and minority communities, and the second full House of Representatives vote on the issue of coal ash in the 114th Congress.

The Interior Appropriations bill will be voted on by the full House later today.

The amendment will require implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities (“Coal Ash Rule”) to be consistent with Executive Order (EO) No. 12898. The EO’s purpose was to focus attention on the environmental and public health effects federal actions have on minority and low-income communities, but it did not necessarily mandate agencies do so. With Rep. Johnson’s amendment, the EPA and states are required to consider the impact implementation of the new coal ash rules will have on these often forgotten communities.

“We cannot allow communities across the country to fall between the regulatory cracks simply because they live in certain neighborhoods or have certain income levels,” said Rep. Johnson. “More coal ash is expected to be dumped in the state of Georgia. As we saw in Flint, we need to act at the federal level before our failure to do so results in irreversible damage to the health and environment of the communities we represent. I do not want American families, regardless of income level, to be unfairly and unreasonably exposed to toxic chemicals.”

As power companies shutter old, air polluting, coal-fired power plants in favor of cleaner, more sustainable ways to generate electricity, these plants leave behind a material known as coal ash. Coal ash contains known carcinogens such as arsenic, lead and mercury.

Although EPA regulates the use, transfer and storage of coal ash, many communities throughout the nation are already being exposed to dangerous levels of coal ash either through coal ash ponds, power plants, or landfills that are in predominately low-income and minority communities.

The problem of low-income and minority communities being disproportionately exposed to chemicals, hazardous waste, and toxic materials is not new. More than 134 million Americans, and their homes, schools, businesses, parks, and places of worship, are in harm’s way of a toxic chemical exposure. This is the first time a coal ash and environmental justice amendment passed the House floor this year and represents a needed step forward in addressing the dangers of coal ash in our communities.

A 2014 study found that residents in vulnerable zones are disproportionately African American or Latino, have higher rates of poverty than the U.S. as a whole, and have lower housing values, incomes, and education levels than the national average. The poverty rate in these zones is 50% higher than the national average. The percentage of Blacks is 75% greater than for the U.S. as a whole, while the percentage of Latinos is 60% greater. This means almost half the people most likely to suffer from exposure are Black or Latino.

“But make no mistake; coal ash poisoning is not racially discriminating,” said Johnson. “Rural communities throughout North Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Oklahoma are suffering from exposure to coal ash dumping, leaking coal ash ponds, and coal ash transport.”

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