EPA On The Wrong Side Of Green Groups Over Coal Ash Rules
April 9, 2012

EPA On The Wrong Side Of Green Groups Over Coal Ash Rules

An alliance of environmental groups is urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to push forward with new coal ash standards that it had proposed after a massive and expensive 2008 oil spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Kingston Fossil Plant.

The group, comprised of EarthJustice, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Integrity Project, and others, filed a lawsuit against the EPA last Thursday (April 5) because the agency failed to act on the proposal it had made years earlier. The group wants the Obama administration to find a way to regulate the containment and disposal of coal ash, a power plant byproduct that threatens public health.

“It is well past time the EPA acts on promises made years ago to protect the nation from coal ash contamination and life-threatening coal ash ponds,” EarthJustice attorney Lisa Evans said in a statement to Reuters.

The EPA proposed regulating coal ash in 2010 after the TVA oil spill, which caused a flood of sludge and cost more than a billion dollars to clean up.

The coalition said the way coal ash is disposed of now can lead to groundwater contamination due to improperly built storage ponds and landfills. The EPA acknowledged that contaminants found in coal ash, including mercury, arsenic and cadmium can cause cancer if they get into the water supply.

EarthJustice last week released data obtained from the EPA that shows instances of contaminated groundwater at 29 US power plants across the country. The report shows various cancer causing pollutants in groundwater near the coal-fired power plants.

“When plants are monitoring they´re generally, much more often than not, finding the contamination,” Evans told Reuters. “Which then, of course, begs the question of, why aren´t there federal protections to stop this contamination?”

The Obama administration has a tough fight ahead, as it fights off accusations that its regulations will stifle business in a struggling economy. Republicans have attacked the EPA, accusing it of a war on coal-fired power plants due to new emissions rules.

The EPA did announce last Tuesday (April 3) that its carbon pollution standard for power plants would discourage new coal-fired power plants from being built, which would substantially hinder domestic coal demand. The agency said that move would hurt railroad companies in the short term because a large part of their revenue comes from hauling coal.

The agency also said its new rules will require existing facilities to build pond liners and monitor groundwater where coal ash is disposed of. The EPA said finalization of the rules is due sometime this summer.

Still, Evans said the agency isn´t moving fast enough and needs to set a hard deadline to finish.

Lawmakers on both sides are up-in-arms over the proposed changes. Some say regulating coal ash disposal would suffocate industries that use recycled waste. A group of 35 senators sent a letter to EPA´s administrator Lisa Jackson in 2010, arguing that the proposal would place unfair burdens on utilities and could cost jobs. And the House of Representatives passed a bill in October that would hand the responsibility for regulating coal ash disposal to individual states. That bill has been backed by bipartisan senators, but has since yet to gain much attention.


Image Caption: Aerial photograph of the Kingston Fossil Plant site taken the day after the event. Credit: Tennessee Valley Authority