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Foster Introduces Legislation To Prevent Against Coal Ash Pollution

Jul 23, 2015
Press Release

Washington, DC—Today, Congressman Bill Foster (IL-11) introduced the Democratic Motion to Recommit on H.R. 1734 – Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act of 2015.

The Motion to Recommit would amend Republican legislation intended to deregulate coal ash disposal by requiring that coal ash impoundments must be sufficient to prevent toxic levels of contamination of groundwater and to protect all sources of drinking water.

Coal ash, the material left after coal is burned, can present serious risks to human health and the environment if not disposed properly.

Foster spoke about the legislation on the House floor. Video is available here.

Text of Foster’s remarks is below:

This is the final amendment to the bill which will not kill the bill or send it back to committee. If adopted, the bill will immediately proceed to final passage as amended.

What this common sense amendment does is something I think we should all be able to agree is a good thing – it protects our drinking water.

My Motion to Recommit would require that coal ash impoundments must be sufficient to prevent toxic levels of contamination of groundwater and to protect all sources of drinking water, including but not limited to the Great Lakes.

Coal ash – the material left after coal is burned – contains many toxic elements, including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and selenium.

Arsenic exposure can lead to nervous system damage, cardiovascular issues, urinary tract cancers, lung cancer and skin cancer.

When people are exposed to lead, they may experience brain swelling, kidney disease, heart problems, nervous system damage, a drop in intelligence, and even death.

If not handled properly, these toxins can and do leach from storage sites and contaminate nearby water sources.

I think that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle can agree that we don’t want our children drinking water contaminated with lead, arsenic, and other toxic compounds.

But that is exactly what happens when these surface impoundments are not properly built, maintained, and monitored.

According to a 2010 EPA risk assessment, people living near unlined coal ash ponds have an increase in lifetime cancer risk as high as 1 in 50 caused by the arsenic contamination alone in their drinking water.

I suspect that this is a much higher risk than any of us would accept for ourselves and our families.

I do not believe that it is an accident that coal ash ponds, as well as the coal plants that produce them, are disproportionately located in economically disadvantaged areas, placing a burden on those with few resources to defend themselves and the health of their families.

A 2011 report by the Environmental Integrity Project found that my home state of Illinois has the second most sites contaminated by coal ash in the country, and that Illinois EPA data showed groundwater contamination exceeding health standards in all 22 coal ash-related sites the agency monitored.

We know that there are coal ash ponds contaminating groundwater in Waukegan, Illinois, which borders Lake Michigan.

But contamination in Illinois isn’t just a problem for the people of Illinois; it’s a problem for the entire country.

Water crosses state boundaries in lakes, rivers, and underground aquifers.

That is why coal ash should be regulated at the national level, and at a minimum, we should demand that ground water and drinking water be protected.

The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system in the world and it is unconscionable that we are considering a bill today that would weaken protections for the water that many of us drink.

The vote on this motion to recommit is fundamentally about whether or not you believe all people in this our country deserve access to safe drinking water.

I urge my colleagues to vote yes on this motion, and yes to protecting the health of millions of American families.