June 25, 2009
by: John Allan Clark
Well, good thing we had that hastily-assembled and barely-advertised public meeting with officials from the EPA, ADEM, and local governing bodies last night on the coal ash debate. All this time I was worried about the toxic constituents of the ash, arsenic and radium and the like. Good thing Franklin Hill of the EPA set the record straight. The real danger? Newspapers.
That's right, folks. The biggest problem, Hill suggested last night, was not that the people of Uniontown and Perry County were concerned about the proven toxicity of "nonhazardous" fly ash about to be dumped in their back yards. It was actually that The Media has been "muddying the water" and "spreading misinformation," getting the public all riled up over nothing at all.
We ask people to question their leaders, and this, it seems, is dangerous.
But when Hill walked into that meeting Wednesday night, he walked into a hornet's nest I doubt he was expecting. Our people, he quickly learned, are not stupid or easily misled. They're concerned about the future of their county. He also learned that the public has been systematically shut out of the landfill debate from the get-go. He got some inkling of the contempt with which our own leaders regard us. I hope that may help him begin to understand.
Look at what we're up against. As attendees at the meeting pointed out last night, this plan has been decided on and the deal all but sealed without one iota of public input. Without the public even being informed, except through the work of that wicked old newspaper.
Forces a lot more powerful than any average Perry Countian are at work here. Our elected officials see a shot at some quick and easy money, and they're not about to let that slip away. Ditto for the landfill officials. TVA has to finish the cleanup of its Kingston disaster that caused all this in the first place, and fast.
Not only that, but EPA is reconsidering its classification of coal ash as "nonhazardous." Because of increased concern about the ash's toxic constituents, it may soon be considered hazardous waste. It's a lot more expensive to dispose of hazardous waste. TVA doesn't want that. It couldn't be sent to Uniontown. Our leaders and the landfill owners don't want that, either.
Finally, the EPA itself, facing harsh criticism from East Tennessee residents who live near the disaster site about the speed of the cleanup and dangers the disaster still poses, wants to get this mess cleaned up and behind them.
Everybody is in a rush to get this stuff in the ground down here, and nobody cared to ask how we, the public, felt about it. Who's going to look out for us? Our local elected officials won't. The government agencies who are supposed to won't. The landfill owners, motivated purely by profit, certainly won't. Everyone who should be listening to our concerns is too worried about their own agendas.
Here's a suggestion, all of you: slow down. I know, you're in a hurry to make some money, to save face, to do what you feel you need to do. And I know, you have little use for the public and even less for me. But with even EPA itself rethinking the classification of the ash from nonhazardous to hazardous [which Hill confirmed at Wednesday's meeting] as we speak, is it really the time to rush in?
Here, have one final question. Us folks down here in Perry County would hate to inconvenience you, EPA, but would you mind settling the issue of this ash's safety among yourselves before you tell us how misinformed we are?