EPA Nominee Recognizes Need to Regulate Coal Ash

In the wake of the worst coal ash spill in U.S. history government, officials are waking up to the shocking fact that this toxic waste is not federally regulated as hazardous.  And with a patchwork of inconsistent and woefully insufficient standards dealing with coal combustion waste disposal at the state level, regulators in many states are now vowing to implement tougher rules to protect the health and environment of their citizens.

Their concerns are valid.  After all, burning coal at the 600 or so power plants in the U.S. produces an estimated 130 million tons of toxic coal ash.  That's enough to fill a train of box cars stretching from Washington, D.C.  to Melbourne, Australia.  Because this waste contains pollutants like arsenic, mercury, lead, and other heavy metals, its disposal carries many risks.  (NRDC has an excellent fact sheet on the health hazards, particularly for water quality.)

Kudos to the states that are finally stepping up -- but the problem can be fixed more easily and expeditiously by the federal government.  If there is any good news resulting from the TVA tragedy in eastern Tennessee, it's that the incoming Obama administration is now aware of the risk these unregulated coal ash ponds pose nationwide and seems willing to take action.

Yesterday, at her confirmation hearing, President-elect Obama's nominee to head the EPA promised to move swiftly to reassess coal ash regulations.  Lisa Jackson  told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that with so many lives potentially at stake from similar accidents at power plants around the country, she would order the agency to inspect coal ash sites and determine the appropriate regulatory remedy.

Fortunately, lawmakers on Capitol Hill also have pledged action to address the coal ash threat.  NRDC and other environmental organizations are collaborating on a campaign to make sure this happens -- the sooner, the better.

When it comes to this issue, safety is job one.  The message for President-elect Obama, Lisa Jackson, and members of Congress is that protecting America's communities from the dangers of coal ash combustion waste is a welcome change we can all believe in.