Butterfield Offers Amendment to Protect Low-Income Communities from Environmental and Public Health Risks

Jul 24, 2013
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Late yesterday, Congressman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) was joined by Congresswoman Donna Christensen (USVI) in offering an amendment to H.R. 2218, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act of 2013, to help protect vulnerable populations from the public health risks associated with the storage of and emission of coal ash residue from power plants and industrial facilities.  The amendment would ensure that low-income families, children, pregnant women, the elderly, and workers at industrial facilities are better protected from potential health risks from the storage of coal ash in ponds or landfills through the implementation of new safety standards.  Under current law, states are given the ability to permit coal ash storage facilities and implement standards to prevent the ash from contaminating the environment and threatening public health.  However, Butterfield and Christensen’s amendment would ensure that states consider the impact of any coal ash permitting program on populations located near where coal ash storage infrastructure most commonly exists.

“When handled responsibly, coal ash can have many safe and useful benefits to industries and the economy,” said Butterfield.  “But in my home state of North Carolina, the ninth highest producer of coal ash in the country, most of the areas where coal ash plants are located or stored are poverty-stricken.  Seventy percent of coal ash impoundment areas in the top producing states are located in poor communities.  This puts those communities at greater risk for environmental contamination and public health threats.  It is important to protect those vulnerable communities from being disproportionately affected by enacting thoughtful coal ash disposal and storage requirements.” 

In 2008, there was a breach of a coal ash surface impoundment pond in Kingston, Tennessee.  The spill damaged homes and property across 300 acres and cost $1.2 billion to cleanup.  In 2011, a bluff collapse at a Wisconsin power plant sent coal ash into Lake Michigan. 

Butterfield offered the amendment to H.R. 2218 although he opposes the underlying bill, which would allow states the option to adopt more lax regulations for the handling of coal combustion residuals, and prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from establishing and enforcing any national standards related to coal ash.  The bill is opposed by the majority of Democrats serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Butterfield’s amendment was not adopted.