Lisa Jaeger

Kiss My Ash: How King Coal’s Lobbyists Are Undermining Coal Ash Regulation

Is this toxic sludge 'hazardous'?  Coal lobbyists are doing everything they can to force the EPA not to regulate it.  Photo credit.

DeSmogBlog and PolluterWatch present: Coal Fired Utilities to American Public: Kiss My Ash [pdf].  This report reveals that between October, 2009 and April, 2010 industry representatives held at least 33 meetings with White House Office of Management and Budget staff--at least 4 months before the first public hearing on the proposed ruling on coal ash was held on August 30th.

If coal ash, a waste product from burning coal to generate power, contains concentrated levels of known carcinogens, neurotoxins and radioactive elements, is it hazardous?

According to King Coal’s lobbyists, the answer is ‘No.’  

On behalf of the rest of the American public, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to move towards officially classifying coal ash as “hazardous.”  This step would open regulatory doorways that could limit contamination of drinking water, related sicknesses, and dangerous toxic floods.

Corresponding with today’s final public EPA hearing on coal ash in Knoxville, Tennessee, DeSmogBlog and PolluterWatch released a report [pdf] calling attention to the relentless attempts by coal lobbyists to prevent the labeling of this hazardous material as, er, 'hazardous'.  This last hearing is expected to reflect the sentiment at previous public hearings—people don’t want to live at risk of contamination from heavy metals like arsenic, mercury and lead. Especially the folks in Tennessee who continue to deal with the consequences of a failed coal ash impoundment.  

Utilities in the United States generate almost 140 million tons of coal ash each year, so they're willing to throw around millions of dollars to prevent the regulation of such a prevalent waste product.  Those with the most at stake include American Electric Power, Duke Energy, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, which together account for over 25% of the coal ash sites that have been classified as particularly dangerous.

As the coal titans became weary of the EPA’s intent to finally treat coal ash like the powerful contaminant it is, they dispatched a legion of lobbyists to delay regulation.  The effort succeeded, buying time to ramp up a public relations campaign touting the “beneficial” uses of coal ash and pushing the familiar dire economic implications of federal oversight.

Last year, as EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson submitted a draft proposal for coal ash rules to the White House Office of Management and Budget, coal lobbyists began booking potentially illegal meetings with the White House, en masse, so as to clog OMB’s review of the EPA proposal.   From October 2009 to April 2010, coal’s influence peddlers held at least 33 meetings with White House OMB staff—three times more than meetings that included university scientists and environmentalists.

King Coal’s lobbying arm earned two substantial victories from these meetings.  First, Jackson’s goal of reaching a decision by the end of 2009 was effectively delayed.  The second victory was the addition of a new, weaker proposal to require liners in coal ash ponds as a way to reduce water contamination, while classifying the waste as 'non-hazardous.'  With this option, coal companies may have successfully bought their way out of meaningful oversight unless the EPA finally wakes up and does the job it is supposed to do, namely protect people and the environment from toxic materials.

Who exactly are these polluter lobbyists?

PolluterWatch has profiled a few of the key coal representatives who have fought tooth and nail to prevent the regulation of coal ash:

Also noteworthy is Lisa Jaeger of Bracewell & Giuliani. Though not present at the meetings posted on the White House website, she lobbies on behalf of the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners, Southern Co, Dynergy, and other clients who pay her to prevent various regulations.

Of these lobbyists, only Kavanagh has not been employed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

*For more information, be sure to read the full report [pdf] and our compilation of high hazard coal ash pond locations, with associated parent companies.*

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