CHESTER - U.S. Congressman David McKinley (R-W.Va.) says despite past insinuations to the contrary, he has been, and remains, concerned with the safety of Chester residents living near Little Blue Run.
He said both he and his representatives felt blind-sided by recent accounts and wanted to let constituents of the area know about both his previous and ongoing efforts relating to fly ash legislation, as well as concerns expressed by Chester resident Curt Havens who lives near the disposal site
"We are taking the Havens' concerns very seriously," said McKinley.
The congressman spent about an hour at the kitchen table of Curt and Debbie Havens in August 2011 discussing the damage to their home that they believe is being caused by the effects of Little Blue.
Richie Parsons, a district director for McKinley from Morgantown, was scheduled to visit the Havens' home on Thursday to take pictures and gather additional statements that he will pass on to the congressman.
Although the issue with Little Blue has been going on for years, it again was highlighted in mid-February when McKinley made several stops in Hancock County. He again was greeted with questions about the site and his involvement with trying to correct any wrongdoing perhaps associated with it.
The "lake" is owned by FirstEnergy Corp. It encompasses a portion of Hancock County but mostly is situated in Greene Township, Pa.
Fly ash is a byproduct of burning coal. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), fly ash is "a very fine, powdery material, composed mostly of silica. Fly ash is generally light tan in color and consists mostly of silt-sized and clay-sized glassy spheres."
McKinley said that fly ash has been studied for "30 some years" and that the material "can be recycled." He said fly ash has many "positive attributes" and can be used in materials such as concrete, dry wall, cosmetics, and toothpaste. According to the congressman, 40 percent of the material that is produced is recycled and 60 percent of it is disposed.
The recycling of fly ash, McKinley says, has become an industry in the United States.
"There are some 316,000 jobs tied to recycling," the congressman stated.
McKinley cited two EPA studies, one from 1993 and the other from 2000, to emphasize his point that "fly ash is non-hazardous."
"The EPA was under pressure from people alleging that it's hazardous," said McKinley. "They conducted these million dollar studies and found it not to be hazardous."
The congressman has sponsored H.R. 2273, the "Coal Residuals Re-use and Management Act." According to a statement from McKinley's office, the bill "takes a new approach to federal environmental regulation."
"Once H.R. 2273 becomes law, state regulation of coal ash will be consistent and will be at least as stringent as the federal baseline. States are free to regulate coal ash more stringently than the federal baseline in H.R. 2273. Regulation of coal combustion residuals will be more protective than municipal solid waste in that the federal baseline set by H.R. 2273 includes protection measures specific to coal ash that go above the criteria set in Part 258 for municipal solid waste," the statement continued. "H.R. 2273 requires deadlines for completion of any remedy of structural integrity deficiencies and requires setting, as part of implementing the revised criteria, initiation and completion schedules for any remedial corrective action. The legislation also allows states the flexibility to seek technical or enforcement assistance from EPA should the state determine that such assistance is needed."
According to the statement from McKinley's office, state permit programs will, at the very least, include the following features: liners and other design criteria, groundwater monitoring and corrective action - including detection and assessment monitoring for the constituents EPA identified as being specific to coal combustion residuals, sitting restrictions, fugitive dust control, financial assurance, operation criteria regarding surface water control, record-keeping, and run-on/run-off controls, and structural stability assessment and the requirement that structures will remedy identified deficiencies within a time period set by the state or close.
The bill is supported by the West Virginia Coal Association and many other groups nationwide.
McKinley said the Havens' were allowed the opportunity to testify at the first reading of the bill and many of their concerns were factored into it, especially those dealing with the disposal of fly ash. The congressman said the Havens' also expressed their concerns at a meeting in his Washington, D.C. office.
"We re-wrote the bill and included how to dispose of the material. We were listening to what they were concerned about," said McKinley. "This bill says it (fly ash) should be disposed of in a landfill under municipal waste, which includes battery acid, motor oil, and freon gas."
Havens says he sees the impact that the bill will have a bit differently than McKinley.
"The bill blocks the federal EPA from regulating fly ash and gives the job to the individual states, but our thing is that the states aren't doing enough and we want the federal EPA to be able to step in and fix the problem and then step out," said Havens. "It's not to our best interest."
Lisa Graves Marcucci of the Environmental Integrity Project said the congressman is "relying on outdated data."
"When there is new information, we all need to move forward," said Graves Marcucci, citing a study completed in 2006 by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) at the request of then West Virginia Congressmen Nick Rahall and Robert Byrd.
"When Congress needs to know something, they petition the NAS. They are the gold standard in science," said Graves Marcucci. "An act of Congress commissioned the NAS to study coal combustion residues. They found that there was no evidence to support that fly ash is completely benign, in fact, the opposite is true."
Graves Marcucci said that final study was "a consensus of the entire panel, as ordered by Congress."
"The study involved public hearings, field visits to coal ash disposal sites as well as a scientific review of data," said Graves Marcucci.
She said the study was limited to coal ash placed in mine sites, but that she believes it "can be applied to the overall issue of coal ash disposal."
On the topic of the NAS study, McKinley stands by the reports done by the EPA.
"The EPA has their consensus and we all have to accept that and live with it," said McKinley.
According to Havens, whose home is on Pyramus Drive in Chester, both McKinley and Flynn Altmeyer, a field representative for the congressman, sat with the Havens' at their kitchen table in August 2011, but no other residents were present to voice their own concerns.
"The meeting was a rushed hour with no press or other residents," said Havens. "Before he left we asked him, 'Other residents want to talk to you, will you come back?' and he said he would."
Havens said he had been approached about a town hall-style meeting between McKinley and other concerned residents, but that isn't the type of meeting he and others are hoping for.
"Come back to my house for other residents to talk to you," he has suggested to the congressman.
In a letter addressed to the congressman from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Randy C. Huffman, cabinet secretary, confirmed to McKinley that he was informed by the chief inspector of their Environmental Enforcement section, Mike Zeto, that there have been no "notice of violations" or fines issued against FirstEnergy's Little Blue Run facility.