PSR Signals Intention to Sue U.S. EPA for Release of Coal Ash Rule
January 18, 2012
with environmental organizations, filed a Notice of Intent to sue the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require the Agency to release rules
for safe disposal of coal ash, the toxic waste left when electrical utilities burn
The Notice of Intent, filed
January 18, calls on the EPA to complete a “timely review” of its pending coal
ash regulations, as required by law under the
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
The letter also asks EPA to review the outdated test it uses to
determine the toxicity of coal ash constituents.
PSR spokesperson Maureen McCue,
MD, PhD, president of the PSR Iowa chapter, told reporters that, a year and a
half after she testified at an EPA coal ash hearing in 2010, “Nothing has
happened since then except that these toxins continue to mount. Our water and health continue to be
threatened by the ongoing accumulation of these toxic materials.”
Because burning concentrates
coal’s impurities, coal ash is heavily laden with some of the most dangerous
toxic metals in the world, including arsenic, mercury, lead, chromium, cadmium
and selenium. These and other toxicants
in coal ash are or can be carcinogenic and can damage the lungs, heart,
peripheral nervous system, brain, intestines, liver and kidneys.
PSR has been and continues to
be active on coal ash, filing written comments with the EPA, testifying at
hearings, educating legislators, and producing resources including Coal Ash: The Toxic Threat to Our Health and
“Regrettably, it has become necessary to
challenge EPA for its failure to release coal ash safeguards in timely
fashion,” stated Barbara Gottlieb, director of PSR’s Environment and Health
program. “EPA’s inaction places hundreds
of communities at great risk.”
With coal-burning utilities
producing 140 million tons of coal ash every year, the ash constitutes an
enormous waste stream. It is typically
disposed in “ponds,” sometimes the size of small lakes, which frequently are
unlined and may be held back by earthen walls.
Breaks in these walls, accidental spills, and leaching of toxic elements
has led to widespread contamination of groundwater and surface water.
In December 2008, the collapse
of the coal ash impoundment at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil
Plant, which flooded 300 acres of a riverfront community with 1 billion gallons
of toxic sludge. This disaster destroyed
the local community, resulted in a multi-year cleanup estimated to cost more
than $1.2 billion, and caused the permanent displacement of dozens of families.
In late October 2011, another
significant spill occurred in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where an unregulated coal
ash disposal site collapsed into Lake Michigan, inundating the lake and
shoreline with 25,000 tons of coal ash. Regulations addressing coal ash
disposal might have prevented such disasters and would certainly help to
prevent future ones, the NOI notes.
The EPA has 60 days to reach an
agreement with PSR and the other potential plaintiffs, which include
Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club, and local
environmental groups from affected communities across the country. If no out-of-court agreement is reached, the
issue will move to litigation.