EPA Postpones Promised Coal Ash Regs

Notice that my subject line doesn't feature the word "unplugs".

But the fact remains, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it will not be issuing long-awaited new federal regulations for coal ash by the end of December -- as the agency had pledged in the wake of the massive coal ash catastrophe in Tennessee one year ago next week. 

[UPDATE: Ken Ward, Jr. has interesting detail in his Coal Tattoo blog about how the coal industry has been pressuring the EPA heavily about anticipated new coal ash regulations; apparently, industry lobbyists have met repeatedly with Obama officials over the past few months while environmental advocates have scored just one sit-down with agency officials.]

Here is the official statement issued by EPA this afternoon:


Contact: EPA Press Office, press@epa.gov, 202-564-6794

WASHINGTON - EPA's pending decision on regulating coal ash waste from power plants, expected this month, will be delayed for a short period due to the complexity of the analysis the agency is currently finishing.

As part of her commitment to ensuring the protection of public health and the environment regarding coal ash, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson had set a deadline to complete the regulatory decision before the close of this year. However, the agency is still actively clarifying and refining parts of the proposal.

Coal ash is a by-product of the combustion of coal at power plants, which is collected and later disposed of on land.  Coal ash was brought prominently to national attention in 2008 when an impoundment holding disposed ash waste generated by the Tennessee Valley Authority broke open, creating a massive spill in Kingston, TN, that covered millions of cubic yards of land and river and is regarded as one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind in history. Shortly afterwards, EPA began overseeing the cleanup, as well as investigating the structural integrity of impoundments where ash waste is stored.

Administrator Jackson has been committed since the beginning of her Administration to complete these efforts, and expects to issue a proposed rule in the near future.

Here is the statement NRDC released in response, jointly with Sierra Club, Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project:

“We are disappointed that the Environmental Protection Agency will be unable to keep its promise to propose new standards for the safe disposal of coal ash by the end of this year.  But we appreciate EPA Administrator Jackson’s continued commitment to a rule that will protect our groundwater and our rivers from toxic runoff from coal ash and other coal combustion wastes.  We hope to see the Agency’s proposal, which is many years overdue, out for public comment in January.

“Not surprisingly, the coal-fired utilities have mounted a disinformation campaign designed to minimize or hide hazards from ash dumpsites that are virtually unregulated today.  But any reasonable review of the facts demonstrates that the lack of safeguards has led to contamination of drinking water wells, creeks, and wetlands, and the buildup of toxic chemicals in fish and other aquatic organisms. 

"The same coal and utility lobbyists that have fought every law that has made our environment healthier and safer will once again make the same arguments they used to fight enforcement of the Clean Air Act.  These threats have proven to be hollow in the past and ought not to be taken seriously today.  Coal-fired power plants cannot be allowed to continue contaminating our drinking water or dumping toxic pollutants in our rivers.

"The Obama Administration has pledged to let law and science guide its environmental decisions, not the arm twisting of industry lobbyists.  That is a promise President Obama must keep.”