This week the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to finalize first-ever federal regulation for the disposal of coal ash, by December 19, 2014; settling a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of SACE and other environmental and public health groups. While the settlement does not dictate the content of the final regulation, it confirms the agency will finalize a rule after years and years of unnecessary delay.
In the aftermath of the Kingston coal ash disaster over five years ago, former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson vowed to finalize regulations to safeguard communities and waterways from coal ash, America’s second largest industrial waste stream. EPA proposed a range of regulatory options for a coal ash rule in 2010 and received over 450,000 public comments, but since that time has failed to finalize protections, succumbing to pressure from industry, the White House and some members of Congress.
For decades, utilities have dumped coal ash in huge impoundments located next to waterways we all depend on for drinking, agriculture and recreation. Over 450 of these sites are scattered throughout the region, containing enough potentially toxic waste to cover 275,000 football fields one foot deep. Many impoundments are as structurally inadequate as the one that failed in Kingston, Tennessee in 2008, threatening another catastrophic spill.
Even without a full-scale dam failure, impoundments commonly leak toxic heavy metals like arsenic, selenium, mercury and lead to ground and surface waters. Ongoing pollution problems in several states have prompted SACE and other community groups to file other lawsuits to bring utilities into compliance with the Clean Water Act and other current laws.
While having a date set for a final federal coal ash rule is welcome news, proper oversight of toxic coal ash was needed decades ago. Make sure EPA gets the message and join us in encouraging the agency to rise to the occasion and finalize a strong and effective rule that will truly protect our people and waters of the region.