Coal Ash Finally Regulated—But Not as Hazardous Waste

Six years after one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history, the EPA adopted a rule to regulate a byproduct of coal power plants. The new regulation puts coal ash in the same category as household garbage, disappointing many activists.

3 minute read

December 28, 2014, 11:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid


"In the early morning hours of Dec. 22, 2008, a dike failed at the (TVA) Kingston (coal power) plant [40 miles west Knoxville, Tenn.], unleashing a billion gallons of coal ash that smothered about 300 acres of land," write Rachel Kinney and Kelsey Page of Knoxville-based WBIR TV. As a result of this and subsequent spills, including most recently the Feb. 2 Dan River spill in North Carolina, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finally regulated coal ash, adopting a new rule on Dec. 19, almost four years to the date later.

Kelsey Page and WBIR anchorman John Becker explain the significance of the new rules and their potential shortcomings in the video below.

"They're going to have standards for dam safety; they are going to have monitoring standards. All of these things are going to be helpful," said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, who appears in the above video. "Up until this point, it was really up to the state to decide or even the utilities to self-regulate themselves."

"This new rule protects communities from coal ash impoundment failures, like the catastrophic Kingston, Tennessee spill, and establishes safeguards to prevent groundwater contamination and air emissions from coal ash disposal," blogs EPA's , Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

"Still, (the Dec. 19) announcement is disappointing for environmentalist pressing for stricter rules," write Kinney and Page. "Many environmentalists say coal ash is toxic and full of heavy metals like lead and mercury."

"EPA and the Obama Administration today have taken a modest first step by introducing some minimum national protections for disposal of coal ash, but the standards do not go far enough," stated Molly Diggins, State Director of the North Carolina Sierra Club in a press release."

"But TVA and other groups argue that coal ash is not hazardous," write Kinney and Page. In fact, if it was to be classified as hazardous waste, "it would prevent them from recycling coal ash to make it into building materials, like concrete and wallboard," writes Climate Progress reporter, Emily Atkin

Indeed, the EPA has estimated that approximately 45 percent of all coal ash is currently recycled, whole the rest of it is disposed in ponds and landfills.

But environmentalists have taken issue with the recycling process too, saying the lack of regulation on the reuse process means that many recycling facilities are just “dumpsites in disguise." [See Earthjustice report: "Out of Control: Mounting Damages From Coal Ash Waste Sites, Feb. 24, 2010 (PDF).]

EPA directs readers to learn more about coal ash, "one of the largest types of industrial waste generated in the United States. In 2012, 470 coal-fired electric utilities generated about 110 million tons of coal ash."

Hat tip to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Daily Digest Bulletin

Saturday, December 27, 2014 in EPA Connect

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