Girl Scouts to press EPA on coal ash

Local News

ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Some Central Illinois residents are heading to the nation’s capitol to call on the EPA. They want to keep strict regulations on coal ash in place. The toxic waste comes from coal plants and can seep into groundwater if left unmonitored.

It’s turned up in the Vermilion River and now, environmentalists fear it’ll happen more often if rules change.

Not only environmentalists are concerned. Some young Girl Scouts are also taking up the fight. They may be young, but they know exactly what coal ash is and the threat it poses to the environment and their health. 

“I want to be an environmental lobbyist.”

It’s something 7th grader Amelia Hopkins has known since kindergarten and Girl Scouts is giving her a head start.  Her decorated sash is proof, but now she’s stepping things up a notch. Monday, she and her younger sister are heading to D.C. to speak before the EPA.

The agency is considering the rollback of a 2015 Obama-era regulation lowering standards for the clean up and disposal of coal ash. It leaves it up to states to enforce the rules. For Amelia, it could be bad news for summer camp at Lake Springfield.

“If that coal ash leaks into the lake, it could hurt Widjiwagan, where my camp is and I do not want that to happen. I know we couldn’t go there anymore because of all the health risks.”

Studies show toxins from coal ash include chemicals like arsenic and lead. Exposure can lead to asthma or even cancer.

“Waste is left in people’s communities and we really think it’s important that people have a voice in that,” says Andrew Rehn, of Prairie Rivers.

He studies the effects of coal ash near Illinois rivers. He’s also headed to D.C. He fears the state’s rules won’t keep people safe.

“What they want to do here isn’t enough, so, to think that the federal government would say the states can do it, or even polluters can judge when they need a clean up means that we’re really going to be in a situation where we don’t have those projections guaranteed that we would have if we’d had this on a federal level.” 

The EPA will be taking public comment for 45 days. Utility companies are pushing rollback to save money, they stand to save millions each year.

The Illinois EPA director says regardless of changes the state will continue to hold coal plants responsible for toxins they leave behind. 

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