New EPA Coal Ash Rule is a Timid Step Toward Cleaning up Leaking Waste Pits

Friday, December 19, 2014

Rule Requires Some New Standards but Still Leaves Communities at Risk.

WASHINGTON, DC – Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the first-ever national standards for coal ash disposal.  Coal ash is the toxic waste that remains from burning coal to generate electricity. This second largest industrial waste stream in the United States contains many known hazardous chemicals, including arsenic, mercury, lead, and hexavalent chromium.   This new rule is a first step toward better protecting communities from leaking coal ash ponds and landfills. However, for the most part, it leaves enforcement of the regulations up to individual states.

“This rule is a long overdue first step, but EPA could have done more to protect communities from this toxic mess." said Robert Wendelgass, President and CEO of Clean Water Action.  “We are disappointed that the Administration caved to industry pressure and issued a weak rule that will leave enforcement up to the same states that have failed to protect communities from toxic coal ash pollution for decades.”

EPA and environmental organizations have documented over 200 cases of unsafe coal ash disposal that have resulted in the contamination of rivers, lakes, streams and groundwater in 37 states.  The new regulations establish some safeguards to detect and prevent releases of toxic waste, but will not require electric utilities to phase out the reckless practice of dumping toxic coal ash in large impoundments (or ponds), which are often unlined, unstable and sited near drinking water sources.

“The Administration missed an opportunity to rein in an irresponsible industry that time and time again has poisoned communities with their toxic waste,” said Jennifer Peters, National Water Campaigns Coordinator at Clean Water Action. “Instead of putting drinking water first, the Administration ignored the science when it decided not to classify coal ash as a hazardous waste, even though it contains toxics that are known to be deadly and cause cancer. Our communities deserve better than a patchwork of inadequate state regulations.”

Jennifer Peters
1 202-393-3224