Most Americans don’t have much first-hand interaction with coal. But the U.S. burns through the fossil fuel at an incredibly prodigious rate. Large coal-burning electric plants burn the vast majority of coal used in this country. In so doing, these plants create large amounts of coal ash as a by-product. While some of this coal ash is recycled for “beneficial” purposes, such as being mixed into cement, most of it is simply stored in massive waste disposal pits. These pits dot the outskirts of hundreds of power plants across the country, taking the form of large ponds or lined pits that are designed to hold the concentrated heavy metals and other toxins contained within coal ash.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not designate coal ash as a hazardous material. This omission leads to a proliferation of very loose state laws that fail to properly govern coal ash disposal. As a result, there is created a heightened potential for spills and groundwater contamination. Following the massive Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal ash spill in 2008, a spill that contaminated hundreds of homes and more than 300 acres of property, the EPA began an attempt to develop federal guidelines for coal ash ponds.
Unfortunately for the communities surrounding coal ash plants, the EPA’s efforts have met very tough opposition from both business owners and lawmakers. It’s claimed that EPA’s proposed rules could potentially cost the utility industry billions of dollars. They contend the rules would cause an intense backlash from the coal industry. Furthermore, many lawmakers have attempted to completely eliminate the EPA’s ability to regulate coal ash in any form. That’s a step in the wrong direction and hopefully it won’t happen.
Despite these challenges, the EPA has made progress, drafting more than 200 pages of proposed rules and reviewing more than 600,000 written comments. Issued on what we have learned in the TVA litigation, coal ash must be regulated. The end result of the EPA’s efforts has been to focus on two possible approaches to the nationwide regulation of coal ash. Those approaches are:
The EPA’s goal is to use these proposed rules to encourage power plants to deal with coal ash in its solid form. That’s because the liquid version of the waste is much more hazardous to store and control. Many observers believe that the EPA will attempt to regulate coal ash as “nonhazardous” waste, which would make the ash from many more power plants’ available for use by the recycling industry. That may be the only achievable solution, in an obvious area of concern, that can be accomplished.
The proposed regulations have faced years of delays, and nothing of consequence has been accomplished. But the EPA now faces a court-ordered deadline to complete these regulations by December of this year. Environmentalists are watching closely to see what steps the EPA will take to alleviate the long-term threat posed by coal ash disposal. If you agree that the EPA should act, contact members of Congress in your state and ask them to support the EPA in its efforts. You might also contact President Obama and ask for his support. If you need more information on this subject, contact Grant Cofer, a lawyer in our firm’s Toxic Torts Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Grant.Cofer@beasleyallen.com.
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.