MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to deny Alabama’s Coal Ash Permit Program, saying it’s putting waterways at risk of contamination. 

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Agency representatives came to Montgomery on Wednesday to hear from concerned citizens and the power companies about their proposal.

Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal. Without proper management, it can pollute waterways with harmful contaminants. The EPA is proposing that Alabama’s policy of managing coal ash doesn’t meet federal standards.

EPA representatives heard from the public — many in support of them denying the program, like former Wilsonville Mayor Lee McCarty. He said his community has been directly affected by this.

“We have 24 million tons of coal ash in Wilsonville,” McCarty said. “It is toxic. We know it’s toxic.”

McCarty said the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s (ADEM) policy of letting companies seal off coal ash ponds isn’t stopping groundwater contamination.

“Capping it in place does nothing. It’s going to run, run, run, into the river, into peoples’ wells, into peoples’ gardens, into peoples’ cattle,” McCarty said. 

That’s what the EPA said it’s trying to prevent. But those representing the utilities said ADEM’s policy is safe. 

“I live right near the Mobile Bay, and I swim and fish in all of those. I believe it is safe,” Energy Institute of Alabama Executive Director Blake Hardwich said. 

Three members of the Energy Institute of Alabama– Alabama Power, Power South and TVA– have coal ash ponds. 

Hardwich said through the institute’s own independent study they found no problems with the coal ash ponds. She also said the alternative — removing the coal ash and trucking it to landfills, which other states have done — could have its own environmental consequences and take decades.

“To me, that’s more concern to a community than closing in place where it has been safe and effective,” Hardwich said.

The EPA first announced its proposal to deny Alabama’s program in August, opening up this public comment period. 

The next hearing on the issue will be held virtually next Wednesday Sept. 27.