WASHINGTON (December 19, 2014)—The Environmental Protection Agency’s long-awaited rule on disposal of toxic ash from coal-burning power plants falls far short of what’s needed to protect the public and our waterways from the millions of tons of dangerous sludge that is produced annually, the Natural Resources Defense Council said today.
The following is a statement from Scott Slesinger, NRDC’s legislative director:
“The EPA is bowing to coal-fired utilities’ interests and putting the public at great risk by treating toxic coal ash as simple garbage instead of the hazardous waste that it is. Too much of the agency’s new rule is left to the discretion of states, which all too often have favored powerful utility companies instead of the public.
“Unlike the majority of environmental standards -- which are backstopped by federal enforcement -- this rule all but leaves people who live near coal ash dumps to fend for themselves.”
Coal burning utilities produce every year more than 100 million tons of coal ash, which is laced with arsenic, lead, and other dangerous pollutants. Much of it is safely recycled into concrete and wallboard, but every year millions of tons are dumped into poorly regulated ponds, landfills and abandoned mines.
Without proper safeguards, these storage facilities can leak toxic pollutants into drinking water supplies. Spills can be disastrous: earlier this year, 27 million gallons of polluted water from an unlined coal ash pond in North Carolina spilled into the Dan River, and in 2008 -- in one of America’s worst environmental disasters -- the breach of a massive coal ash pond in Kingston, Tenn., flooded downstream communities and affected millions of residents.
After years of delaying action on issuing a coal ash rule, the EPA was under court order to issue new safeguards by December 19, 2014. NRDC and other groups urged the agency to classify coal ash as a hazardous waste, which would have required stronger oversight, safer disposal methods and phase-out of the coal ash ponds. Instead, today the agency classified coal ash as non-hazardous, requiring fewer safeguards and protections.