- Kelly Perry is an active duty military spouse stationed overseas and a Tennessee resident
We just celebrated the 12th National Day of Remembrance for the Cold War Patriots on Oct. 30.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander sponsored its Senate resolution and cosponsored all twelve resolutions.
As his staffer, I had the privilege to draft two of these resolutions.
Senator Alexander said that these nuclear weapons workers “paid a high price” and “quietly sacrificed.”
The federal government caused this suffering and paid 18,900 Tennessee workers over $3 billion to date.
This compensation program was created by public law. The law states, “to compensate these workers and their families in a manner that is compassionate, fair, and timely.”
Coal ash has sickened and killed our citizens
I care for the environment and people who suffer most from pollution. Disproportionately, minority and low-income communities bear the burden of long-term exposure to pollutants.
I followed the trail of ash. Less than 5 miles from my home in Harriman, Tennessee, toxic ash spilled from the neighboring power plant — the largest coal ash spill in U.S. history.
The avalanche of waste could fill 150 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The coal ash pond of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal plant ruptured.
The National Geographic called this “Coal’s other dark side: Toxic ash that can poison water and people” in their 2019 article, a decade after the spill.
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People in Tennessee are still suffering and dying. Tennesseans are not alone. The U.S. has 1,400 ash dumps. Where is the “compassionate” law for these sick Tennessean workers?
The moral versus immoral battle
I asked, “Where did the ash go?” The other side of this suffering is in Alabama. I moved to Alabama in 2015 — following the trail of ash. We were assigned to Maxwell Air Force Base. I could see the Montgomery Capitol from my home. Here, I became pregnant with my first son to be named Maxwell.
On Feb. 18, 1965, state troopers clubbed protestors. One protester, a mother like me, was being protected by her son, who was then killed by police. In response, people marched from Selma to Montgomery. The killing was 20 miles from a place called Uniontown, Alabama.
While being a staffer for U.S. Senator Alexander, I marched in North Carolina — the largest gathering in the U.S. South since Selma’s voting rights’ marches in 1965.
Nearly 100,000 people gathered in protest to the Tea Party political experimentation. Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of NAACP, called “Just like Dr. King said ‘come to Selma’ in 1965, we’re saying ‘come to Raleigh’ in 2014.'” Reverend Barber declared, “This is a moral versus immoral battle.” This was a bipartisan march. Republicans that marched said they were “not extremists.”
Who will be the ‘compassionate’ successor to Lamar Alexander?
The toxic Tennessee coal ash was sent an hour and a half west of the Montgomery capital to Uniontown, Alabama.
Uniontown is a rural, low-income community and 90 percent Black. This year the American Bar Association reported “the failure of decision-makers to protect the people of Uniontown — and, generally, the broader set of policies that lead to the disproportionate exposure of people of color to pollution from landfills and other toxic sources.
Where is the “compassionate” law to protect this vulnerable community in Alabama? Who will be our next “compassionate” U.S. Senator from Alabama, U.S. Senator Doug Jones or Tommy Tuberville?
Environmental and civil rights laws are failing to protect vulnerable communities. Furthermore, the administration has rolled back federal regulation specifically designed to prevent these kinds of catastrophes from happening again.
After decades of work in public service, U.S. Senator Alexander is retiring in less than 75 days. The environmental justice office at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is half of what was proposed 20 years ago.
We need “compassionate” leaders in this moral versus immoral battle. Who will leave a legacy of compassion and bravery, Marquita Bradshaw or Bill Hagerty from Tennessee partnering U.S. Senator Doug Jones or Tommy Tuberville from Alabama?
Kelly Perry is an active duty military spouse stationed overseas and a Tennessee resident
Read More: Tennessee needs more compassionate leaders on the environment