PSR, Allies Require EPA to Finalize Coal Ash Rule
February 4, 2014
Physicians for Social Responsibility and ten co-litigants successfully completed a consent agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, requiring the EPA to finalize the first-ever federal regulations for the disposal of coal ash by December 19, 2014.
"This is a vital step toward protecting America from coal ash. This highly toxic waste is all too often unsafely stored and has contaminated too many communities," stated Alan Lockwood, MD, FAAN, a PSR board member and an expert on coal's impacts on health.
Coal ash, the waste material left by the combustion of coal in power plants, is the nation’s second largest industrial waste stream. It contains an alphabet soup of toxic substances including arsenic, beryllium and cadmium, lead and mercury, and selenium, thallium, vanadium and zinc.
These and other toxics have leaked, spilled, leached and poured from coal ash storage sites across the country, contaminating lakes and rivers, fish and animals, land and air.
The legal settlement, which comes after years of delay, does not dictate the content of the final regulation, but does confirm that the EPA will finalize a rule by a set date. It comes in response to a lawsuit brought in 2012 by Earthjustice on behalf of PSR, nine environmental organizations and one Native American tribe.
A copy of the settlement can be found here.
PSR, while it welcomes the deadline that has been set, continues to push for strong controls over this large-scale toxic threat. It calls on the EPA to establish a federally enforceable rule, close unlined coal ash ponds or impoundments, and require that companies start safely disposing of ash in properly designed landfills. Groundwater testing is needed at these ash dumps, data needs to be shared with the public, and power companies must act promptly to clean up all potentially harmful residues.
Coal ash became a national concern in December, 2008 when a storage pond in Kingston, TN burst through an earthen dam, spilling over a billion gallons of coal ash-laden water and damaging or destroying two dozen homes and 300 acres of riverfront property.
In the aftermath of that disaster, former EPA Secretary Lisa Jackson vowed to finalize coal ash regulations. The EPA proposed various regulatory options and held seven public hearings in 2010. PSR joined other public health, environmental and community organizations in generating more than 450,000 public comments on EPA's proposed regulation, calling for the strongest protections available under the law.
Since then, despite coal ash contamination at more than 200 sites nationwide, the agency has failed to finalize the protections.