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Coal Ash: Menace or Nuisance? Oregonians Can Weigh In



August 26, 2010

BOARDMAN, Ore. - There are at least two reasons for Oregonians to weigh in on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposal to regulate coal ash. One is the Portland General Electric (PGE) Boardman plant; the other is the Colstrip plant in Montana, owned in part by PGE and Pacific Power. Both produce electricity for Oregon customers by burning coal.

A new report from the Sierra Club says, in the areas surrounding the plants, groundwater is contaminated by coal ash. Dr. Catherine Thomasson, doctor of internal medicine and local president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, notes tiny ash particles also affect air quality and have multiple health effects.

"It exacerbates, or makes worse, and causes people to have more asthma attacks, more problems with their breathing if they have respiratory problems to begin with. It even increases issues of stroke and heart attack."

According to Thomasson, coal ash contains toxins, including arsenic and selenium. The EPA could classify coal ash as hazardous waste, which the coal and energy industries say would greatly increase their disposal costs.

Robin Everett, associate regional representative for the Sierra Club in Oregon, says the EPA wants to hear from the public about two options -- adopting new federal coal ash rules, or leaving things as is. She thinks the status quo is unacceptable.

"Our household garbage is regulated more strictly than coal ash is, right now. It's basically a patchwork of rules; every state has their own rules, some states have no rules. What we need is a federally-enforceable standard."

The Sierra Club report warns coal ash from the Boardman plant's 40-acre disposal area has leached into groundwater, affecting a large farm, feedlot and neighboring wells. It also refers to the Colstrip plant in Montana as one of the "worst" coal ash storage sites in the nation. Residents near that plant won a multi-million dollar settlement for health problems related to coal ash contamination.

The agency is taking public comments online, and will also hold hearings around the country in September. The closest hearing to Oregon is in Denver on Sept. 2. Comments can be sent to the EPA at rcra-docket@epa.gov.

The report, "In Harm's Way," is online at http://action.sierraclub.org/harmsway.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR
 

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