By BOB JOHNSON
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Perry County resident Esther Calhoun says her rural area has been ruined by tons of coal ash that have been dumped in a sprawling landfill near Uniontown.
Calhoun was in Montgomery this week to argue that a proposed bill to regulate coal ash disposal in Alabama does not go far enough and should be amended to label the substance as a toxic waste. Such a change would mean ash would have to be taken to a toxic waste landfill rather than a dump licensed for household garbage, like the one in Perry County.
Calhoun was one of several Perry County residents who complained to members of a House committee that coal ash gets on cars, houses and on the ground in the area near the dump, which accepted coal ash from a massive environmental accident in Tennessee.
Calhoun said the pollution destroys the reason most people would want to live in an isolated area like rural Perry County.
"How would you like it if coal ash was right next to your home? I live in the country because I enjoy the country air. It's more healthy. Now you don't know what you are getting in the air," Calhoun said.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Greg Canfield, R-Vestavia Hills, is supported by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. It was approved Wednesday by the House Commerce and Small Business Committee on a voice vote and now goes to the full House for debate.
ADEM attorney Vernon Barnett said Alabama is currently the only state that does not regulate dry ash as a solid waste. He said without the bill coal ash could be dumped in any field without restrictions.
Canfield said his bill will not get rid of the landfill near Uniontown, but it will set up rules and regulations for dumping coal ash. He said the state can't label coal ash as a hazardous waste until the Environmental Protection Agency takes that step.
The coal ash was brought into Perry County by train from Kingston, Tenn., where at least 5 million cubic yards of the material spilled from a Tennessee Valley Authority holding pond in December 2008.
Consumer advocate Barbara Evans said coal ash is toxic and should only be dumped in places like the large toxic waste landfill at Emelle in Sumter County near the Mississippi line.
"We want you to regulate coal ash for what it is. It's a hazardous waste," Evans told legislators at Wednesday's committee meeting.
Evans later said she's concerned the bill will open the door for more ash to be deposited in Alabama dumps.
Uniontown resident Mary Schaeffer said she's concerned that millions were spent to clean up the coal ash in Tennessee, and then it was dumped in Perry County "across a two-lane road from homes."
Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she believes the bill "is a good first step" and hopes it will lead to coal ash eventually being labeled a hazardous waste.