Countdown to coal ash rules from EPA

Guest Blog | December 10, 2014 | Coal, Energy Policy
We are exactly 9 days away from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) official release of final rules for coal ash regulation that have been in the works ever since the catastrophic Kingston disaster of 2008. Since then, it has taken almost 6 years and countless efforts by citizens and advocates to sound the alarm on the immense dangers of coal ash pollution. SACE was part of a lawsuit with Earthjustice and multiple other groups to hold EPA accountable to issue these new coal ash rules by Dec. 19, 2014.

To understand the seriousness of this issue though, we need not look back as far as 2008; 2014 itself proved to be another immensely notable year in the world of coal ash. February 2, 2014 marks the date of nation’s second worst coal ash disaster in history, also right here in the Southeast on the Dan River in North Carolina. The Dan River spill precipitated a now infamous path of embarrassment for both the state of North Carolina and Duke Energy as they became exposed for their cozy relationship and lax methods of dealing with toxic coal ash waste. A notable culmination of the media blitz occurred this past Sunday night, Dec. 7, on CBS’ 60 Minutes when Lesley Stahl interviewed Duke’s CEO, Lynn Good.

During the interview, Good tried to spin the situation, futilely attempting to fend off Stahl’s line of questioning as she points out again and again that Duke Energy’s lack of action is putting North Carolinians at risk. Our lawyer from SELC, Frank Holleman, deftly clarified that one of Duke’s key means of addressing the problem will be to simply leave the ash where it is and put a cap over it… which is the equivalent of allowing them to “pollute in place” and absolutely won’t solve groundwater and soil contamination at these facilities. While Duke Energy is the current poster-child for bad coal ash management, the problem is far larger than just one utility. We’ve known for years that coal ash was more than a disaster waiting to happen.

In fact, nearly 450 unlined, improperly monitored coal ash impoundments litter the Southeast and are silently leaking pollutants into many waterways on a daily and hourly basis. For decades the utility industry has been happily avoiding scrutiny for their coal ash management methods as numerous other pollution problems from coal dominated the public focus. In a specific attempt to bring more attention to and understanding of coal ash problems in the Southeast, SACE launched in Dec. 2012. This website lets concerned citizens easily access information about coal ash across the region, and it has become an essential tool for citizens and advocates for the past two years. Recently, we’ve added a brand new feature to this interactive website that allows users to create their own, personalized reports about coal ash nearest them at

Ever since EPA’s first comment period for coal ash regulations opened, we, along with our fellow allies, have been calling for the strongest possible safeguards to be put in place. In an unprecedented move, EPA originally proposed two different options — one called Subtitle D and the other Subtitle C. I remember the difference by associating “D” with “Dumb,” because that option is not firm enough and won’t require enough cleanup, removal, and ongoing monitoring to truly protect public health and the environment. Unfortunately, that’s the option we think EPA is leaning toward. You can read more for yourself about the distinctions and why we hope Subtitle C is selected, on our Coal Ash Rules and the EPA webpage.

Do you also think that EPA’s rules should be strong? There is still time for you to let EPA know! Use our Take Action page to do so, or call the White House (tel: 202-456-1111), and tell President Obama that you want coal ash listed as a hazardous waste.

In closing, I’d like to share a great list that Lisa Evans wrote in Earthjustice’s Blog about “10 More Things You Should Know About Coal Ash,” following the 60 Minutes segment. These are very important points: 

The toxic coal ash turned the Dan River gray for 20 miles east of the North Carolina border. Photo courtesy Waterkeeper Alliance.
  1. While [Lynn] Good wants more time, 2,175 days have already passed since the 1.2 billion-gallon coal ash spill in Kingston, TN and not a single regulation in the nation has been changed to prevent another major toxic disaster.
  2. The amount of toxic coal ash that has spilled in the U.S. in the last six years is more than 100 times the amount of oil that spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster.
  3. Duke Energy has not only polluted water and violated environmental laws at every plant it operates in North Carolina, as 60 Minutes reported, but the company has also wrought damage across the U.S. The utility has operated approximately 100 coal ash ponds throughout the country, with water contamination documented at its dumps in Florida, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana.
  4. Good admits “exceedances” of some of the deadliest chemicals known to man in water near Duke’s coal ash ponds. More than 800 families in North Carolina alone live within a half-mile of the ponds and get their drinking water from wells. Yet Duke has conducted no systematic residential well testing to-date for coal ash pollutants like arsenic, hexavalent chromium, lead and selenium in the state or anywhere else.
  5. Duke Energy, as well as the entire utility industry, is lobbying Congress and the White House to permit them to continue to pollute our water and threaten lives by operating dangerous unlined coal ash lagoons next to reservoirs, waterways and vulnerable communities.
  6. Good says she believes her plants are “operating safely,” but she has her head in the sand. People are currently in danger. For example, serious drinking water contamination has occurred near Duke’s Buck Plant in Salisbury, NC, where the powerful carcinogen hexavalent chromium is poisoning wells near the unlined ash ponds. Duke has not supplied the affected families with bottled water, although it has been six months since the deadly chemical was discovered.
  7. The utility industry is lobbying the White House to keep the public from obtaining information about its dangerous coal ash dams, citing “national security” concerns as a justification for withholding critical information from the public.
  8. Duke Energy, as well as the entire utility industry, is lobbying the White House to prevent them from regulating—at all—hundreds of inactive coal ash ponds like the Dan River impoundment, which failed in February and fouled 70 miles of river with toxic ash.
  9. Coal ash is classified as a hazardous substance under the federal Superfund law, and EPA should list it as a hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Chief executives would then no longer have the luxury of leisurely pondering the cheapest way to get out of the mess they’ve created while the health and safely of citizens across the nation remain in danger.
  10. The utility industry is lobbying the White House and Congress to prevent federal oversight of coal ash disposal because federal enforcement would mean that safety standards would actually be enforced nationwide.

Check out the entire 60 Minutes interview:

Guest Blog
My Profile