The EPA has a long to-do list to correct environmental justice failures
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued several recommendations about how the EPA should meet its environmental justice obligations. However, these findings are not legally enforceable.
- The EPA should test all private drinking water wells within one mile of coal ash ponds and landfills.
- It should conduct more studies on the human health impacts of coal ash.
- The EPA should independently investigate risks from coal ash disposal and the structural integrity of coal ash dams — and take any necessary enforcement.
- It should include affected communities in negotiating settlements.
- It should reclassify coal ash as “special waste” under the hazardous waste category. This would give the federal government more control over the production, transport and disposal of coal ash. Yet it could also allow for the ash to be recycled.
- By 2018, the agency should review its final rule, which went into effect in 2014. In that review, the EPA should identify environmental justice issues near coal plants and consider the cumulative impact of many pollution sources on these neighborhoods.
- The EPA should not eliminate any deadlines, as the agency has proposed, in handling these civil rights cases.
- Congress should increase the EPA’s budget in order to hire staff in the Office of Civil Rights. Additional personnel could help reduce the backlog of cases and complaints.
- Congress and the EPA should commission a study to investigate options for the utility industry to compensate community members for health care expenses and land devaluation that resulted from coal ash contamination.
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