UTS Grad on the Frontlines of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy

Brian J. Sauder (MAR ’10), recently testified before the US EPA in Chicago regarding Coal Combustion Residuals (CCG), otherwise known as coal ash. He is currently the Central Illinois Congregational Outreach and Policy Coordinator for Faith in Place.

Brian is addressing issues of social justice and the environment, challenging the EPA to consider coal ash as a hazardous material, given the troubling rates of cancer in and around the Oakwood, IL area, where large mounds of coal ash continue to poison the ground and water. His testimony is a great example of how Christians can be active participants in working toward redeeming God’s created order.

Brian’s testimony is included below:

“I want to begin by thanking you for holding this public hearing on the proposed EPA rule for regulating coal ash. I have traveled three hours by bus from Central Illinois this morning to tell you that we in Central Illinois need the EPA to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste under Subtitle C.

I work for Faith in Place, the Illinois affiliate for Interfaith Power and Light, as the Central Illinois Outreach Coordinator. We work with religious congregations in Illinois and across the nation to help them better steward the earth. As a part of my outreach in Central Illinois, I have talked with four churches in Oakwood, IL, home of three coal ash impoundment sites next to the Dynegy Coal Burning Power Plant, and the Bunge North American Corporation coal ash dump site located in the town of Oakwood. Oakwood residents, and their four coal ash sites, are also located next to the Middle Fork of the Vermillion River, a designated national Wild and Scenic River.
Illinois EPA testing around one of the dump sites in Oakwood have found lead levels 3.5 to 4 times the Illinois standard for ground water, as well as high levels of boron, iron, and manganese, all which have tested above the state ground water standards.

The pastors, congregants, and community members in Oakwood, all buy bottled water when they can, but rely on private wells for the majority of their water use. Despite warnings from the Illinois EPA, many homes continue to use their water, for no alternative source has been provided.

I recently talked to four pastors in Oakwood, two of them at the same time, and the other two independently. All of them, without me asking, expressed that they had not seen such high levels of cancer in their congregations since they moved to Oakwood to take their pastoral positions. An EPA draft risk assessment released in August 2007, shows that the cancer risk for exposure to coal ash is 9 times higher than the cancer risk of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
Coal ash in Oakwood, IL, is currently not handled in a way that regards the health and safety of the people of Oakwood. As a person of faith, and one that works with people of faith, we find in common a commandment to love our neighbor, to treat one another as we would desire to be treated.

Often throughout our faith histories, our traditions have failed in loving our neighbors. By grace, we have worked to denounced those unfortunate actions, and we have taken steps to repent and reconcile. The proposed Subtitle C by the EPA is a move in the right direction for coal companies to repent and begin to reconcile for the cancer and harmful health results of mishandled coal ash on communities. Subtitle C will begin this process in Oakwood and for the communities around the nation like Oakwood that have coal ash impoundments. As a person of faith I believe there is grace available, and categorizing coal ash as a hazardous waste under Subtitle C is a necessary first step for communities like Oakwood to recover from this injustice.”