Right now, Americans are dealing with the day to day realities of a global pandemic. This is not the time to be burdened by worries about increased pollution that could further threaten human health and the environment, but the Trump administration isn’t taking that into consideration. While the EPA eases pollution controls on industry, Americans are expected to show up for virtual public hearings to speak out, a process that is ineffective, ill-timed and excludes many.
Last week, the EPA held virtual hearings on rolling back part of a series of 2015 coal ash regulations. According to groundwater monitoring reported as part of a 2015 Coal Combustion Residual Rule, around 92% of unlined coal ash pits are contaminating groundwater. Part B of these rollbacks would allow some unlined pits to be left to pollute, and in some cases allow still more coal ash to be piled on. The rule fails to address coal ash pits at retired power plants (legacy ponds), though many are known to be leaking. Clean Water for NC wanted to speak out against weakened protections for coal ash communities, so we participated in the virtual hearing, and found the process to be ludicrous.
Virtual hearings are unfair in absence of opportunities for face-to-face meetings because they take away the ability for people to come together and hear each other’s concerns. Whereas an in-person meeting would last 2-3 hours, these virtual hearings drag on all day (sometimes multiple days) meaning a person would have to be on their phone or computer for 8-16 hours to hear all comments. Only those with internet access at home could feasibly participate, leaving out many rural citizens who can’t access public internet resources at this time. EPA staff periodically notified participants in a recent hearing that no speakers were scheduled for the next time slot, clearly indicating low turnout for the hearing.
Few people can find the time or energy to attend a hearing during the COVID-19 health crisis. Many people are busy at home, schooling their children or caring for sick loved ones. EPA could extend these hearings and the deadline for written comments, but this deadline for the Part B section of the rule remains scheduled for April 17. Tomorrow, on April 15, another virtual hearing will be held, this time for the Federal Permitting Rule for coal ash. This rule would allow the EPA to issue “permits for life” for coal ash landfills, with less public participation than household dumps. Clean Water for NC will participate, speaking out against the permitting rules, and will be sure to tell EPA about the unfair policy of virtual hearing during a pandemic.
If you want to take action on the Federal Permitting rule, but can’t attend the hearing, the comment deadline for this rule has been extended to May 20. See links below:
Virtual hearing on the Federal Permit Rule, April 15.
Written comments for Part B, due April 17.