Federal rules about the storage and disposal of coal ash are expected from the Environmental Protection Agency this week.
Kentucky is "in the center of the storm" about public health risks caused by coal ash, a toxic byproduct created when coal-fired power plants generate electricity, said Thomas Pearce, Kentucky organizing representative for the Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal campaign. Rules that classify coal ash as a hazardous substance are long overdue, Pearce said.
"What we're talking about is protecting the public health, protecting the public good - our rivers, our streams," he said, "and no one group should have the right to pollute them and make them unsafe for the rest of us."
Pearce recently met with the White House Office of Management and Budget to make the Sierra Club's case for the first-ever federal rules. It is among 11 environmental and public-health groups that won a lawsuit last year forcing the EPA to meet a Dec. 19 deadline for new protections.
Mark Romines, who lives a quarter mile from LG&E's largest coal-fired power plant, Mill Creek, said he's "crossing his fingers" that the EPA will put stricter regulations on coal ash.
"Well, with the dust coming off the mountains they've got over here, and the possibility of that wall to the ash pond breaching into our neighborhood," he said, "that's two of my biggest concerns, right there."
Romines said he and others in his southwest Louisville neighborhood have health problems they blame on coal ash. However, the American Coal Ash Association Educational Foundation claims coal ash provides "environmental and economic benefits without harm to public health and safety when properly managed."
Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he will use budget legislation to limit "overreaching" regulations by the EPA. But Pearce said coal ash limits are needed now because "we may never have another chance." He wants the EPA to stop the disposal of wet coal ash, clean up current storage sites and require operating permits for new sites.
"Guarantees, federal regulations and enforcement," he said, "Then the states are going to - maybe, someday, might - be held accountable."
Kentucky is fifth in the nation in coal ash generation, with more than 40 disposal sites.