By Anne Hedges

What does the Transportation Bill being negotiated in Congress have to do with Pennsylvania Power and Light’s leaking coal ash ponds at Colstrip? Nothing. And that’s how it should stay. But some in Congress will do anything to protect the coal industry, including hijacking a finely balanced Transportation Bill. The question is, what will Montana’s Senator Max Baucus do? He sits on the conference committee and will decide whether to protect Montanans or rich out-of-state corporations like Pennsylvania Power and Light.

The House of Representatives passed a Transportation Bill that had three awful anti-environmental riders:

    • One amendment would undermine the National Environmental Policy Act.
    • Another would require approval of the Keystone Pipeline.
    • The third would override EPA’s authority to regulate the disposal of the second largest waste stream in the U.S. – coal ash.

Leaking ash ponds at Pennsylvania Power’s Colstrip Coal-fired power plant.

Coal ash is the by-product of burning coal. It’s toxic. It has contaminated ground and surface waters across the country. It has destroyed people’s homes and livelihoods. It is also the largest federally unregulated waste stream in the country. EPA does not have the authority to require coal companies to control this high volume, high toxicity waste. Instead, a mish-mash of ineffective state programs has been all that stands between clean water and contaminated water. The state programs have failed to protect people, their homes, their businesses, and clean water.

In Montana, coal ash is a major problem. Montana’s DEQ admitted recently that the massive Colstrip ash ponds have likely been contaminating groundwater since they were built in the 1980s. DEQ has the authority to require clean up. It has the authority to stop Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL) from contaminating water, it just hasn’t had the will to get the job done.

Now Congress wants to tell EPA it can’t step in when states such as Montana fail. Instead, Congress wants to guarantee the perpetuation of the failed system that favors polluters over people and water.

Will Senator Baucus let that happen? That’s the question. He sits on the conference committee that will decide what goes into the final bill and what doesn’t. He has the power to help clean up communities across the country, including in Montana. Will he use his power for the benefit of Montanans, or for the benefit of rich out-of-state corporations such as Pennsylvania Power and Light? Contact Senator Baucus and tell him to protect Montanans and their water and keep these toxic amendments out of the transportation bill.

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