09/13/2010 03:44 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Where the Climate Movement Gets a Win: Time to Crack Down on Toxic Coal Ash

The Senate's failure to pass a comprehensive climate bill this summer has left the climate movement in a state of introspection as we try to figure out what comes next. Where do we need to focus in the coming weeks?

The answer: take the fight right back to Dirty Coal.

Here's a perfect example: Coal power plants are by far the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in this country, which means they're making our planet a more dangerous place to live. But these coal plants also generate a by-product waste called "coal ash." Coal ash contains toxic chemicals like arsenic, mercury and lead that can poison the water supplies of entire communities and are known to cause birth defects and premature deaths.

The EPA needs to crack down on toxic coal ash -- and as you'd expect, Dirty Coal and their allies are fighting tooth and nail to protect their profits.

For the past month, 1Sky and other groups like the Sierra Club and EarthJustice have been urging citizens to demand tough action from the EPA on coal ash. Together we've generated thousands of comments to the EPA website and signatures to online petitions and driven attendance to EPA hearings across the country. Recent hearings in Arlington, VA, Dallas, and Denver have turned out a number of voices speaking out on coal ash. Micah Parkin, 1Sky's Colorado/Regional Organizer, told us that more than 250 people turned out for the Denver hearing, where they learned about two coal ash spills in Colorado over the last four years. Sharing stories at these hearings helps raise awareness of how dangerous coal ash is for the health and welfare of our families and communities.

How dangerous?

On December 22, 2008, a ruptured ash dike at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Eastern Tennessee released 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash -- enough to fill 1,660 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The spill covered nearly 400 acres of land, causing major property and environmental damage. The sludge contained high levels of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and selenium that can cause cancer and neurological problems.

This is exactly the kind of disaster that the EPA needs to prevent in the future with tough regulations.

The EPA is holding hearings in seven cities over the next few weeks. Three hearings have already been held in Denver, Arlington, VA, and Dallas. The turnouts have been strong, but we need more public comments in the coming weeks. The EPA will hold four more hearings this month in Charlotte, NC, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Louisville, KY. The more concerned citizens speak out, the harder it will be for Dirty Coal to protect their profits at the expense of our health and safety.