We Energy Oak Creek Power Plant.The We Energy Oak Creek Power Plant.Photo: JonnyfixedgearHow many more coal ash spills need to happen before Americans are protected by coal ash safeguards? The latest happened Monday in Oak Creek, Wis., at the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant.

Thankfully there were no injuries. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal:

A large section of bluff collapsed Monday next to the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant, sending dirt, coal ash and mud cascading into the shoreline next to Lake Michigan and dumping a pickup truck, dredging equipment, soil and other debris into the lake.

The ridge was made of coal ash, and a We Energies spokesperson said some coal ash did spill into Lake Michigan. The photos of the site are sad, and they also make me angry.

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In 2008’s Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal ash disaster, we witnessed firsthand how a lack of strong national protections leaves the job of handling coal ash with state regulators who lack the will and ability to protect communities from coal ash.  

And since the TVA disaster, the industry has been lobbying hard to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from establishing new protections, arguing that states are doing a fine job regulating coal ash. As a result, communities across the nation remain at risk and unprotected.

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Just two weeks ago the industry successfully lobbied the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a bill stripping the EPA of the authority to protect Americans from coal ash. 

Monday’s collapse on Lake Michigan is particularly troublesome because We Energies has known for years that its management of coal ash at this facility was a threat to human health. Indeed, they have been providing bottled water to neighbors whose wells have been contaminated.

This Great Lakes collapse is a tragic reminder of why the status quo is not good enough. As long as Congress interferes, spills — some deadly — are going to happen, and dozens of communities are at risk. Congress needs to back off, and the EPA needs to finalize strong protections.

Monday’s Lake Michigan coal ash collapse shows that states are not protecting our health and our environment from cancer-causing coal ash, and as long as EPA fails to act, there will be more coal ash destruction.