SACE Statement on EPA’s Coal Ash Proposal

Guest Blog | May 4, 2010 | Press Releases

Knoxville, Tenn. (May 4) – The EPA’s announcement today regarding the proposed regulation of coal combustion waste (CCW) offers the choice between stringent federal regulations that would significantly improve protections of human health and the environment, and regulations akin to those currently in place for the regulation of ordinary household garbage. Today’s EPA proposal to manage coal ash waste nationally is a direct result of the tragic coal ash spill in Kingston, TN that not only ripped homes off their foundations—but also ripped the lid off of a national problem and the failure of EPA to develop minimum standards for this waste.

While we applaud EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for proposing two options that would, at a minimum, put in place nationwide regulations for the storage and disposal of coal combustion waste, the proposed option to list CCW under subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act does not offer a regulatory framework that can adequately protect the public or the environment from the dangers of this toxic substance. Stephen Smith, Executive Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says, “the simple fact is that CCW, which contains a litany of toxic substances such as arsenic, lead and mercury, is not comparable to coffee grounds, banana peels and other household garbage that Subtitle D of RCRA is designed to regulate.”

Because both proposals would exempt beneficial uses of CCW from these regulations, there is simply no reason to not impose the regulations under Subtitle C, which would allow for state and federal enforcement, as opposed to the relatively weaker enforcement mechanism of citizen suits through Subtitle D. Regulation under subtitle C (as a hazardous waste) would effectively phase out the use of existing and new surface impoundments, whereas regulation under subtitle D would only require liners to be installed on existing and new surface impoundments (see attached EPA chart). We are also concerned that neither of the proposed regulations would make the distinction between those beneficial uses that bind the potentially hazardous elements of CCW, (such as the use of CCW in Portland cement) and those that do not, such as the application of CCW to agricultural lands or the disposal of CCW into abandoned coal mines.

“For the past 20 years, it has been shown beyond a shadow of a doubt, through rigorous scientific studies conducted by the EPA, the National Academy of Sciences, as well as multiple private and public institutions, that coal combustion wastes present a significant threat to human health and the environment when handled improperly,” said Smith today. “This body of scientific evidence strongly supports the classification of CCW as hazardous waste and the subsequent regulation of this material under Subtitle C of RCRA to ensure responsible storage, transport and disposal. EPA’s proposed option to list CCW as a ‘special waste’ subject to regulation under Subtitle C of RCRA is clearly the preferred option to protect our health and our environment from this toxic substance.

“We are also disappointed that EPA’s proposed rules would not address either the placement of CCW in mines or other uses of CCW at mine sites. It is well documented that the disposal of CCW by filling abandoned mine shafts is a dangerous and irresponsible practice that leads to severe ground and surface water contamination. This practices should be immediately banned to protect our precious water resources.”

In sum, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy supports the development of consistent, nationwide rules for the storage, transport and disposal of CCW. However, we strongly encourage the EPA to classify CCW as a hazardous waste and regulate its storage and disposal under subtitle C of RCRA. We would support specific exemptions for those beneficial uses that do not pose a threat to human health and the environment, but these exemptions should come after, not before, we have stringent regulations in place to protect our communities and ecosystems from this dangerous substance. # # # Related Links:EPA Chart: Coal Combustion Residuals (Wastes) Key DifferencesSACE’s TVA Coal Ash Spill Page