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The Post and Courier (South Carolina)

EPA Urged to Toughen Coal Ash Rules

Tony Bartelme

This file handout photo provided by the Tennessee Valley Authority on Tuesday Jan. 12, 2009 shows the massive ash spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Kingston, Tenn., on Dec. 23, 2008, the day following the spill. Cleanup costs could run as high as $825 million after the coal ash spill considered one of the worst environmental disasters in the history of the Tennessee Valley Authority, President and CEO Tom Kilgore said Thursday, Feb. 13, 2009. (AP Photo/TVA, File)

The chorus calling for new coal ash regulations appears to be getting louder. On Tuesday, 109 environmental groups wrote a joint letter to the Environmental Protection Agency urging tighter regulations on fly ash and other coal combustion wastes.

The groups wrote that coal combustion wastes pose a serious threat to the environment and public health, and that December's coal ash spill in Tennessee "dramatized the need for federal standards for safe disposal of these wastes, which are virtually unregulated by the EPA."

Nearly every major U.S. environmental group signed the letter, including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, Greenpeace and the National Wildlife Federation.

Last October in "Toxic Ash: Coal's time bomb," Post and Courier Watchdog revealed that coal ash ponds and pits in South Carolina are tainting groundwater with arsenic, selenium and other toxic chemicals. One ash pond at an SCE&G coal-fired power plant with groundwater contamination is a few feet away from the Wateree River and a few miles upriver from Congaree National Park.

Coal-burning utilities crank out more than 130 million tons of ash every year. About 40 percent of that is sent to manufacturers for use in concrete, wallboard and other materials, and officials have long said that classifying fly ash as a hazardous waste could thwart their recycling efforts.

The environmental groups, however, wrote EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that "after eight years of counterproductive backpedaling, we are confident that you will chart a new, responsible course."

The groups said that five years ago, environmental organizations asked the EPA to regulate ash ponds similar to the one that failed in Tennessee. The groups want ash ponds to be phased out and regulations for dry ash disposal tightened.

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