Photo via ABC News
Senator Barbara Boxer, the Chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, was working to build a system to regulate the hazardous ash sites around the country—places where toxic coal ash has contaminated the land; places like the site in Tennessee where a giant slurry broke free and wreaked major havoc on the surrounding environment. But she's hit a bump in the road: the Department of Homeland Security refused to allow her to disclose the locations of ash spill sites, saying—get this—the knowledge of their location could be a threat to national security.
How is that you ask? Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post sums up the DHS's reasoning nicely:
The pollution is so toxic, so dangerous, that an enemy of the United States -- or a storm or some other disrupting event -- could easily cause them to spill out and lay waste to any area nearby.
And to anyone who'd deem the matter trivial—we've got bigger concerns than coal ash, right? That's Tennessee's problem—consider the fact that there are nearly 50 such sites around the US, and the public is being kept in the dark as to their location.
There are 44 sites deemed by the Environmental Protection Agency to be high hazard, but Boxer said she isn't allowed to talk about them other than to senators in the states affected. "There is a huge muzzle on me and my staff," she said.
And there's more ash piles than have been officially accounted for, too:
There are several hundred coal ash piles across the nation, she said, all of them unregulated. "If these coal ash piles were to fail they'd pose a threat to the people nearby," she said. While keeping it from the public, DHS is alerting first responders as to the location of the piles.
The official reasoning here seems pretty flimsy—an enemy launching an attack to release coal ash? Seems there are more pressing national security threats to deal with, and leaving the thousands of people at risk to storms or "other disrupting events" (and last time I checked, the weather doesn't watch CSPAN, and have no secret agendas) is simply unjust. In reality, it's more probable that divulging the whereabouts of unregulated ash sites would be a huge embarrassment to the government, and keeping the matter under wraps is the best way to avoid a public relations fiasco.
Which is a shame, because the people who live near the sites deserve to know the real risks, should a real storm shake the ash loose, instead of living under the shadow of made up ones to help save the government face.
More on Coal Ash Spills
Massive Tennessee Toxic Ash Spill May Have Been Prevented by Fixes Rejected by TVA Officials
Ash Spill Fallout Continues: Now "260 Times the Allowable Amount" of Arsenic in Drinking Water Supply
Who Wants Some Coal Ash? Tennessee's Mess Getting Shipped Out of State