A coalition of environmental groups has filed a lawsuit to force the Obama Administration to finalize new rules regulating the containment and disposal of coal ash, a power plant byproduct that many believe threatens public health. I happen to be in that group. Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Integrity Project, and several other groups want the Environmental Protection Agency to finalize coal ash standards the agency proposed after a massive and expensive 2008 spill. The groups filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. A lawyer for Earthjustice, Lisa Evans, had this to say in a statement:
It is well past time the EPA acts on promises made years ago to protect the nation from coal ash contamination and life-threatening coal ash ponds.
The EPA proposed regulating coal ash, or byproducts of coal combustion in power plants, in 2010, after the spill at a storage site at a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant. Our firm had been heavily engaged in litigation relating to that disaster. The 2008 accident caused a flood of sludge for which cleanup was estimated to cost more than $1 billion. Environmental groups contend that coal ash disposal can lead to groundwater contamination from improperly built storage ponds and landfills. The EPA has said contaminants such as mercury, arsenic and cadmium in coal ash could cause cancer if they get into the water supply.
Earthjustice has released data obtained from the EPA that shows previously unknown instances of contaminated groundwater at 29 U.S. power plants. The report shows arsenic, lead and other pollutants in water near the coal-fired plants. Ms. Evans stated:
When plants are monitoring they’re generally, much more often than not, finding the contamination. Which then, of course, begs the question of, why aren’t there federal protections to stop this contamination?
Some Republicans in Congress have attacked the EPA, accusing the agency of a war on coal-fired power plants due to new emissions rules. The EPA has proposed two versions of the coal ash rules. One version would be tougher on existing facilities. But both versions would require liners and groundwater monitoring at new storage sites.
The final rules are expected during the summer. But Ms. Evans believes that the EPA should to set a hard deadline to finish the project. Lawmakers from both parties have criticized the proposed changes. Some say regulating coal ash would stifle industries that use recycled waste. In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in 2010, 35 senators contended that the proposal would place unfair burdens on utilities and could cost jobs. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in October that would hand the responsibility for regulating coal ash disposal to the states. A bipartisan group of senators backed the bill, but attention relating to the bill was short-lived. I have a hard time believing the states – with their limited resources – should have to take on this added burden. A national approach seems to be better suited for regulating coal ash in this country.
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