Bokoshe, Okla - Susan Holmes’ home, corner store and roadside beef jerky stand are right off Oklahoma Highway 31, putting them in the path of trucks hauling ash and waste from a power plant that burns the high-sulfur coal mined near this small town.
For years, when Bokoshe residents were outside, the powdery ash blowing from the trucks and the ash dump on the edge of town would “kind of engulf you,” Holmes said.
“They drove by, and you just couldn’t breathe.”
Over three decades, the ash dump grew into a hill five stories high.
Townspeople regard the Environmental Protection Agency as the only source of serious environmental enforcement.
Whenever people took their worries about ash-contaminated air and water to state lawmakers and regulators, “none of them cared,” Holmes said.
So the residents of this 500-person town have nothing but bitter warnings for similarly situated communities now that President Donald Trump’s EPA has approved Oklahoma to be the first state to take over permitting and enforcement on coal-ash sites.
“They’re going to do absolutely nothing,” predicted Tim Tanksley, a rancher in Bokoshe, about 130 miles southeast of Tulsa in a Choctaw Nation coal patch that helped fuel the railroads.
Around the country, the EPA under Trump is delegating a widening range of public health and environmental enforcement to states, saying local officials know best how to deal with local problems.
Critics contend federal regulators are making a dangerous retreat on enforcement that puts people and the environment at greater risk.
One administration initiative would give states more authority over emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Another would remove federal protections for millions of miles of waterways and wetlands.