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Environmental Group Hopes for Strong Coal Ash Rule

MAP: A recent study identified 29 coal-ash sites statewide. Environmental advocates hope new regulations expected this week will help keep them in check. Map courtesy of Michigan Clean Water Action.
MAP: A recent study identified 29 coal-ash sites statewide. Environmental advocates hope new regulations expected this week will help keep them in check. Map courtesy of Michigan Clean Water Action.
December 17, 2014

LANSING, Mich. - New federal regulations expected this week could change the way Michigan and other states deal with coal ash, which environmental advocates say is long overdue.

Coal ash is the byproduct of burning coal and contains poisonous chemicals such as arsenic, lead and mercury, which are known to cause cancer and neurological disorders. Until now, states have been left to regulate its storage and disposal, which Margi Armstrong, Lake St. Clair program coordinator for Michigan Clean Water Action, said has been less than effective.

"We've already seen unsafe disposal of coal ash that's contaminated more than 200 rivers, lakes, streams and sources of underground drinking water in 37 states," she said.

Michigan produces nearly 2 million tons of coal ash every year. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce its first-ever federal rule regarding coal ash on Friday.

According to a recent report, there are 29 known coal-ash sites in Michigan - 19 of them within five miles of one of the Great Lakes, or a bay of one of them. Armstrong said only 14 of those sites are either currently regulated by the state or have been in the past.

"One-fifth of the fresh water in the entire world is right here, and that's a huge responsibility," she said. "We have seen contamination issues here in Michigan with coal ash."

Despite objection from environmentalists, Gov. Rick Snyder earlier this year signed a package of bills allowing coal ash to be reclassified as a "low-hazard material" so it can be used as a base for roads and parking lots in the state.

A report on coal-ash sites in Michigan is online at cleanwateraction.org.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI