Jennifer Loren, Oklahoma Impact Team
BOKOSHE, Oklahoma -- A mountain of potentially deadly fly ash, and the town that sits in its shadow, is getting the attention of Oklahoma's elected officials on Capitol Hill.
Senator Jim Inhofe and Congressman Dan Boren now say something needs to be done about the giant mound of black ash sitting next to tiny Bokoshe.
They're every day Oklahomans. Some are ranchers, some are teachers, but the residents of Bokoshe say they've been forced to learn a lesson in politics and they don't like what they've found. They say Senator Inhofe and Congressman Boren are flip flopping on an issue that, to them, is life or death.
A giant mound of fly ash sits about a mile from the town of Bokoshe, Oklahoma. A nearby power plant is supplying the site with load after load of the coal byproduct, which is full of heavy metals like lead, arsenic and selenium.
Bokoshe residents say the fly ash is toxic and it's killing them. The nearby power company says there is no proof it's toxic and they're following all state regulations.
But the fight over fly ash is much bigger than the small Oklahoma town.
The Environmental Protection Agency is currently trying to decide if it should regulate fly ash at the federal level, possibly labeling it as a hazardous waste. At a hearing in Dallas, they took public comments from hundreds of people either for or against it.
Both Senator Jim Inhofe and Congressman Dan Boren have come out against the possible federal oversight. But Bokoshe residents say the Oklahoma lawmakers went too far when they got involved in their local battle.
A spokesman for the AES Shady point power plant, which produces the fly ash, confirmed the lawmakers got involved at his request.
"I contacted Senator Inhofe and also contacted Congressman Boren and made them aware of the concerns and wanted them to know, you know, what had taken place," Lundy Kiger, a spokesman for AES Corp, said.
Kiger said his power company just wanted to make sure Inhofe and Boren were in the loop. But some Bokoshe residents wonder if the power plant was calling in a favor.
The Oklahoma Impact team discovered the power company, AES Shady Point, donated more money to Senator Inhofe than to any other lawmaker or candidate: $5,000 in the last eight years. They also donated $500 to Congressman Boren.
After making calls to all the state agencies involved, Inhofe and Boren both signed a letter to a Bokoshe resident. It says the fly ash mound is temporary and will disappear, ultimately becoming a pasture.
Residents were furious.
"I understand that Senator Inhofe once said that global warming is the greatest hoax ever pulled on the American people," said Tim Tanksley, a Bokoshe resident. "The biggest hoax ever pulled on the people of Bokoshe, Oklahoma, is telling them that this mountain of fly ash is temporary and will disappear."
Oklahoma Impact Team reporter Jennifer Loren called Boren and Inhofe's offices to find out more about this letter and how the 50 foot mound of fly ash is going to disappear. Neither legislator would give her an on camera interview. But Congressman Boren did respond over the phone.
"I wouldn't say it's going to disappear," he said.
Boren recanted that statement from his letter, but says he does believe the fly ash mound will eventually become a pasture. He sent the letter, he said, out of concern for the people of Bokoshe, to let them know he is looking into it.
"There's a myriad of different issues right there at this site," he said. "And you know, I'm very concerned that anything negative would happen, particularly to my constituents."
In a statement, a spokesman for Senator Inhofe says they too are looking into it and will work with Governor-elect Fallin to ensure progress is made in a timely manner.
Right now, plans are in place to continue dumping fly ash in Bokoshe for at least ten more years. The question is, who will be in charge?
Inhofe and Boren say they believe fly ash regulation should remain at the state level, but state laws need to be changed, possibly putting regulation under one agency instead of three.