MAC: Mines and Communities

Green groups sue US EPA over coal ash pollution

Published by MAC on 2012-04-18
Source: Reuters, Care-2

The USA's environmental protection agency (EPA) is facing a lawsuit which aims at forcing the Obama administration to finalise new regulations for the containment and disposal of power plant coal/fly  ash.

The move has been a long while in coming. See: Is US coal coming under control?

Indeed, the last time MAC mentioned EPA's plans to contain these toxic wastes followed a disaster two years ago: Groups ID Toxic Coal Ash Sites in 14 States, Demand Regulations

The full report on new coal ash water pollution is available to:


Green groups sue EPA over coal ash rules


5 April 2012

A coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday to force the Obama administration to finalize new rules regulating the containment and disposal of coal ash, a power plant byproduct activists say threatens public health.

Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Integrity Project, and several other groups want the Environmental Protection Agency to finalize coal ash standards the agency proposed after a massive and expensive 2008 spill.

"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. The groups filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The EPA proposed regulating coal ash, or byproducts of coal combustion in power plants, in 2010, after a spill at a storage site at a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant.

The 2008 accident caused a flood of sludge for which cleanup was estimated to cost more than $1 billion.

Environmental groups way coal ash disposal can lead to groundwater contamination from improperly built storage ponds and landfills. The EPA has said contaminants such as mercury, arsenic and cadmium in coal ash could cause cancer if they get into the water supply.

Earthjustice last week released data obtained from the EPA that shows previously unknown instances of contaminated groundwater at 29 U.S. power plants. The report shows arsenic, lead and other pollutants in water near the coal-fired plants.

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

The EPA did not respond to requests for comment.

The Obama administration is going into a tough election year fighting accusations that its regulations will stifle business in a struggling economy. Republicans in Congress have attacked the EPA in particular, accusing it of a war on coal-fired power plants due to new emissions rules.

The agency proposed two versions of the coal ash rules. One would be tougher on existing facilities; both versions would require liners and groundwater monitoring at new storage sites.

The final rules are expected sometime this summer, but Evans said the EPA needs to set a hard deadline to finish.

Lawmakers from both parties have criticized the proposed changes. Some say regulating coal ash would stifle industries that use recycled waste. In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in 2010, 35 senators argued the proposal would place unfair burdens on utilities and could cost jobs.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in October that would hand the responsibility for regulating coal ash disposal to the states. A bipartisan group of senators backed the bill, but it has not gained much attention since.

(Reporting By Emily Stephenson; Editing by David Gregorio)

28 New Coal Ash Water Pollution Sites Revealed

by Jennifer Mueller


28 April 2012

A new report by the Environmental Integrity Project documents that 49 coal-fired power plants have contaminated groundwater at 116 coal ash disposal sites in the United States. The data which was released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in response to a Freedom of Information Act request revealed 28 previously unknown contamination sites in Iowa, Colorado, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia.

Coal Power Plant Pollution Stored in Ponds and Landfills Across U.S. Landscape

Coal-fired electric power plants generate approximately 140 million tons of leftover ash every year, which they store in ponds, landfills, and abandoned mines around the United States. To date, there are no federal regulations on the disposal of ash.

Activists living near power plants and environmental advocates have asked EPA to classify the ash -which can contain arsenic, manganese, boron, selenium, and cadmium - as a hazardous material and to regulate its disposal. A massive coal ash spill at Tennessee Valley Authority site in 2008 briefly focused national attention to the problem, but EPA is yet to act so communities live in fear of similar accidents or from groundwater contamination as disposal sites leak slowly.

According to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, "Living near a wet coal ash storage pond is significantly more dangerous than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, according to a risk assessment done by EPA. . . . The toxins found in coal ash have been linked to organ disease, cancer, respiratory illness, neurological damage and developmental problems. People living with 1 mile of unlined coal ash ponds can have a 1 in 50 risk of cancer -that's more than 2,000 times higher than what EPA considers acceptable."

Previously Unknown Coal Ash Water Contamination Sites

For 28 of the disposal sites, groundwater contamination had never been publicly revealed. "Some of these plants were under the radar, and had never been identified before by EPA or in our earlier reports on ash ponds and landfill," explained Environmental Integrity Project Director Eric Schaeffer in a press release.

Another 42 of the 91 power plants surveyed by EPA disclosed no data, reporting that water monitoring data was unavailable, refusing on the grounds that monitoring data is proprietary information, or simply assuring EPA that there was no contamination. According to EIP, at least one plant that reported no contamination to the federal government has been implicated as the source of pollution in state monitoring efforts.

"EPA's Office of Solid Waste is still grinding away on proposed standards for coal ash disposal - more than three years after the TVA spill - but has somehow never found the time to require testing of the groundwater next to coal ash sites, or even to systematically collect the data that is already there. This "see no evil" approach leaves the public at risk, and makes it easier for polluters to duck responsibility for a growing problem," charged Schaeffer.

DeSmogBlog that EIP's report "comes on the heels of a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on an amendment to the Surface Transportation Act of 2012 that would prohibit the EPA from regulating coal ash." West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller is opposing the measure, but only because he's afraid it might derail the transportation bill.

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