EPA Proposes National Regulations on Coal Ash

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Jared Saylor, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 213
Jeff Stant, Environmental Integrity Project, (317) 359-1306
Suzanne Struglinski, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), (202) 423-6004
Virginia Cramer, Sierra Club, (804) 225-9113, ext. 102
Kathleen Sullivan, Southern Environmental Law Center, (919) 945-7106

EPA Proposes National Regulations on Coal Ash

After years of delay, tragedy in Tennessee, EPA proposes regulatory options but stops short of giving clear protections for communities

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced plans today to
regulate coal ash dumps across the country. The announcement comes after
months of delay and misleading statements by the power and coal
industries and nearly 17 months after a billion gallons of toxic coal
ash burst through a dam near a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant in
Kingston, Tennessee.

EPA proposed two options to regulate coal ash: a plan to classify
coal ash as hazardous waste and another to regulate it as non-hazardous.
The difference between the two is stark, and environmental groups are
hopeful that the agency will make the right decision and finalize
strong, federally enforceable coal ash safeguards that use the strongest
limits of the law to protect the communities living near coal ash
sites.

Polluters will claim EPA's plan to designate coal ash as hazardous
waste will
come with a cost to industry
as they conveniently ignore the costs
to public health of dumping unregulated coal ash into ponds and
landfills. Coal ash is filled with arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury,
selenium, and many other dangerous pollutants that can cause cancer and
damage the nervous system and other organs, especially in children.

For years, power and coal companies have been dumping poisonous coal
ash into unlined landfills and unsafe ponds. Last August, EPA
rated 49 coal ash sites across the country as 'high hazard' sites
,
meaning a failure will probably cause loss of human life. The problems
surrounding coal ash ponds and landfills are staggering and continue to
compound as the agency begins to scrutinize many of these forgotten
sites. In February, environmental groups identified 31
additional coal ash contamination sites
in 14 states.

"This is certainly a win of sorts, in that the EPA is finally making
strides to regulate coal ash as hazardous waste," said Trip Van Noppen,
executive director for Earthjustice. "Their inclusion of an option to
regulate coal ash as hazardous waste is an important first step. The
next important step will be to maintain this position in the face of
inevitably misguided claims by polluters that the sky will fall under
this new regulatory environment. The science is clear that coal ash is
hazardous waste, and we are confident this administration will stand by
its commitment to follow the science in its policy decisions."

"The unregulated dumping of coal ash has already contaminated
groundwater, creeks and wetlands at more than 100 sites across the U.S.
with arsenic and other heavy metals," said Eric Schaeffer, executive
director for Environmental Integrity Project. "These pollutants are
dangerous to human health, toxic to fish and other aquatic life, and
notoriously difficult to clean up. EPA's proposal finally acknowledges
these risks, and we look forward to a final rule with federally
enforceable standards to protect the public from the hazards of coal
ash."

"The catastrophic failure of the dam in Kingston, Tennessee, finally
got the nation's attention to regulate toxic coal ash," said Scott
Slesinger, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense
Council. "We learned in Kingston, as we recently learned in the Gulf,
that catastrophic failures associated with dirty carbon happen with
tragic results. We are disappointed that the rule brings forward two
dramatically different regulatory options. One option, which we believe
is critical to protect public health and the environment, has federally
enforceable standards for hazardous waste like those the rest of
American industry follows in disposing of its hazardous waste. The other
option treats this hazardous waste as if it were not loaded with high
levels of arsenic and other toxic metals. We expect EPA to choose the
option that adequately protects the public, particularly our precious
groundwater, and treats this hazardous waste as a hazardous waste."

"As the Tennessee Kingston coal ash spill made abundantly clear, the
current handling of toxic coal ash is unsafe and unacceptable," said
Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "We applaud EPA for acting
on this problem and strongly urge them to adopt federally enforceable
safeguards, not continue with the failed patchwork of state
regulations."

"Lack of regulation in the Southeast has already caused known harm.
From the enormous spill in Tennessee to contamination from coal waste
ponds in North Carolina, the need for more comprehensive regulation is
clear," said Jeff Gleason, deputy director of Southern Environmental Law
Center. "EPA's Subtitle C proposal is an important step toward
rectifying past harm and preventing future disaster."

The TVA Kingston Coal Ash Disaster raised awareness of the dangers of
toxic ash. But there are many other communities at risk. See for
yourself how communities are being affected by fugitive dust,
contaminated water and massive mountains of coal ash and why federal
regulations are needed to protect them:

 

 

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Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.

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