SACE: EPA’s new coal ash rules leave ‘critical gaps’

PRESS RELEASE from
the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Six Years After Kingston, EPA Finally Issues Rules to Regulate Coal Ash

Advocates Concerned the Rules Are Too Weak, Leaving Ash Threats in Place 

Knoxville, Tenn. – Today, just days before the 6th anniversary of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s tragic coal ash disaster on Dec. 22, 2008 that left the community of Kingston, Tennessee covered in one billion gallons of toxic sludge, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has followed through on a long-standing commitment and issued final coal ash standards to regulate America’s second-largest waste stream. Prior to today’s rule, coal ash – a toxic byproduct of coal combustion that contains chemicals such as arsenic, chromium, mercury, and lead – has been an unregulated waste product.In response to today’s rule, Ulla Reeves, High Risk Energy Director at Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, issued this statement:

“We are pleased that EPA has finally issued the long-awaited federal rules for coal ash, yet we fear they are a mere drop in the bucket of what is necessary to ensure a comprehensive clean up of the ash waste problems in our Southeastern region. Sadly, EPA has issued a rule that starts at the lowest common denominator for coal ash clean up, which is exactly what the monopoly utilities and ash “recyclers” want.

Coal ash has significant impacts here in the Southeast where coal plants, and their 450 coal ash impoundments, dominate our landscape and pollute waterways around our region. Coal ash impoundments impact nearly every major watershed in the Southeast – the majority of these dumps are unlined, over 30 years old, and many are within proximity to drinking water sources. These impoundments contain more than 118 billion gallons of toxic waste or enough coal ash to cover over 275,000 football fields one foot deep.

While the new regulations establish some safeguards to detect and prevent releases of toxic waste, by and large the rule leaves critical gaps in the protection of human health and the environment. Most glaringly, EPA disregarded the science by failing to designate coal ash as a hazardous waste, despite the fact that coal ash reads like the who’s who of the periodic table, composed of a lengthy list of carcinogenic chemicals.

Although the rule does include new requirements to increase dam safety, ensure emergency action plans, inspect dams more frequently, and secure independent engineering evaluations of dams, this new oversight is left entirely to the states, utilities, or citizens, without federal involvement. Consequently, this long-awaited rule cannot guarantee that communities are protected, particularly in Southern states, which have historically been unwilling or unable to require utilities to abide by federal guidelines. The Kingston and Dan River disasters are evidence that self-policing has not worked in the past and may not be adequate to prevent similar catastrophes in the future. In essence, we may be left with little more than ‘business as usual’ for coal ash waste regulation in our region.

One of the most positive aspects of the new rule for the Southeast is that “legacy” impoundments, or ash dumps at retired coal plants, must be dewatered and capped. Additionally, all active coal ash ponds and landfills are now required to have publicly available groundwater monitoring information. In states like Georgia and Alabama, groundwater monitoring is currently not required, so this single change, if properly implemented and enforced, could improve water quality and help identify any contamination problems that are currently going unnoticed. Also positive is the fact that any ash impoundments constructed in the future are required to have composite liners and leachate collection systems.

While this new federal rule offers a modest but essential step forward in providing a uniform baseline for how new ash impoundments must be constructed, we are extremely disappointed that the new rule will leave toxic coal ash waste regulated less stringently than ordinary household waste. Citizens and waterways of the U.S., particularly here in the Southeast, will continue to be negatively impacted by this toxic waste stream for years to come unless utilities and states really step up to the plate in ways we’ve never seen before.”

 

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Founded in 1985, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a nonprofit organization that promotes responsible energy choices that create global warming solutions and ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. Learn more at www.cleanenergy.org


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