December 27, 2014
EPA Announces Regulations for Coal Ash Disposal
by Robert Kropp
But by declining to classify coal ash as hazardous waste, the Agency fails to adequately safeguard
human health, the advocacy organization As You Sow states. Second of a two-part series.
The war on coal that industry-friendly Republican politicians contend is the Obama administration's
strategy for dealing with climate change and threats to human health achieved another victory last
week, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the nation's
first-ever federal regulations governing the disposal of coal ash.
byproduct of coal-fired power production, coal ash contains a number of chemicals that are known to
cause severe health problems. Inadequate storage of coal ash has in recent years caused at least
two major environmental and human health disasters. In 2008, “a massive coal ash dump in Kingston,
Tenn., burst through a dike, sending more than a billion gallons of toxic waste across 300 acres of
riverfront property, damaging and destroying two dozen nearby homes,” according to Earthjustice. And
in February of this year, at least 27 million gallons of contaminated water spilled from a coal ash
pond operated by Duke Energy into the Dan River in North Carolina.
In January, a lawsuit
brought by public interest groups and the Moapa Band of Paiutes prompted a District Court to order
EPA to issue regulations on coal ash disposal by the end of this year. The requirements issued last
week include regular inspections and closure of surface impoundments and landfills that fail to
meet standards; restrictions on location; liner barriers for new units: regular monitoring of water
quality; and controls to reduce windblown coal ash dust.
“EPA is taking action to protect
our communities from the risk of mismanaged coal ash disposal units, and putting in place
safeguards to help prevent the next catastrophic coal ash impoundment failure, which can cost
millions for local businesses, communities and states,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
“These strong safeguards will protect drinking water from contamination, air from coal ash dust,
and our communities from structural failures, while providing facilities a practical approach for
Describing the EPA announcement as “an important step forward,” the
advocacy group As You Sow nevertheless stated, “The rule does not go far
enough to protect public health or the environment, declining to classify coal ash as hazardous
waste, and sidestepping rigorous enforcement by delegating to state regulators.”
Shareowner resolutions brought by As You Sow addressing coal ash risk have received
considerable shareowner support in recent years, including several that received more than 40% of
shares voted. A resolution filed with Ameren by the Midwest Coalition for Responsible Investment,
requesting that the company report on its efforts to "identify and reduce environmental and health
hazards associated with past and present handling of coal combustion waste," received favorable
votes from 52.7% of shareowners in 2011.
As You Sow is also party to a lawsuit with Duke
Energy regarding the utility's handling of the coal ash spill in February.
after the TVA coal ash spill, regulators are finally catching up,” said Andrew Behar, As You Sow
CEO. However, he added, “The EPA’s new coal ash rules do not solve the coal ash problem.”
According to As You Sow, “The EPA’s rule suggests significant influence from the electric power
sector, and does little to protect the public. The new rule effectively treats this hazardous,
dangerous waste like normal household trash, and gives state regulators numerous opportunities to
avoid strict enforcement.”
“We need effective oversight to keep industry from taking risks
that are dangerous to both communities and shareholder investments,” Behar said. “Coal ash is
stored in thousands of ponds, piles, and pools across the US. These are ticking time-bombs that
could destroy nearby communities and shareholder value at any time.”