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EPA Hearings: Coal Ash Could Impact Health of Nevadans, Tribe

August 30, 2010

LAS VEGAS - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) begins a series of hearings today on possible new regulation of coal ash that could mean better protections for Las Vegas drinking water as well as for a local Native American tribe.

A new report says the toxic substances found in the ash pose potential health threats near two Nevada coal-fired power plants. The Western regional organizer for the Sierra Club, Vinny Spotleson, says coal-burning plants in northern and southern Nevada both store their coal ash waste in open landfills without special conditions. He says an accident or spill could adversely affect the health of millions.

"We're really concerned with the proximity of the coal ash landfills at the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant, because they're so close to the Muddy River, which feeds directly into Lake Mead. Definitely, the population center of two million people depending on one source of water is of concern."

Both Reid Gardner and the Valmy plant say they are storing coal ash in compliance with current standards.

The Moapa Band of Paiute Indians are neighbors of the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant. Spotleson says the tribe is not alone in facing the prospect of increased health risks because of the way their industrial neighbors store toxic coal ash.

"We see this as a common theme throughout the country and especially throughout the West, where tribal lands disproportionally share the burden of pollution from things like coal ash and the smoke coming out of coal-fired power plants."

Lisa Evans, senior administrative counsel with EarthJustice, is co-author of the new report on the hazards of coal ash, issued jointly by her organization, the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Integrity Project. She says the EPA admits it has not made an effort to find dozens of sites across the nation. There are more than 100 coal ash contamination cases in the report, but Evans says the agency has acknowledged only 67.

"Well, the timing of the study is good, because it will encourage people to learn more about this issue and also to be concerned about the dump sites near where they live."

The EPA holds the first hearing today in Arlington, Virginia, on whether new, stricter standards should be in place. The industry has said that the current system of state regulation is sufficient, although not all states have coal ash rules.

The report is available at www.action.sierraclub.org

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NV