EPA Put on Notice Over Coal Ash Proposal: ‘See You in Court’

Oct. 2, 2019, 8:13 PM

Environmental advocates Oct. 2 claimed that EPA’s coal ash proposals are illegal because companies may be allowed to reuse this material without proper monitoring and public protections.

Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans told the Environmental Protection Agency at a public hearing in Arlington, Va., that the coal ash proposals ignore scientific evidence that the byproduct from burning coal in power plants is hazardous waste.

She said the proposal allows “unlimited volumes” of toxic ash to be placed in playgrounds as fill material, and near drinking water wells, “with no notice, no monitoring, no liners, no requirements whatsoever—even though coal ash fill projects contaminate groundwater, drinking water, soil, and air.”

But Thomas H. Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association, testified that there has been no evidence of environmental damage resulting from power plants stockpiling coal ash for reuse purposes.

The hearing focused on the EPA’s proposed changes to the Obama-era-EPA’s 2015 coal ash disposal rule (RIN:2050-AG88), being made in two phases.

The proposed changes include less stringent groundwater monitoring requirements, as well as discretion for states and coal-fired utilities to decide when substances leaking from coal ash ponds and landfills have to be cleaned up.

They also include a demonstration or test to ensure coal ash that is stored in ponds or landfills without protective coverings could still be used “in an environmentally protective manner,” such as being used in landscaping or playgrounds and as structural fill for road construction.

Coal ash pollutes groundwater and soil with toxic chemicals such as arsenic, mercury, hexavalent chromium, lead, and radium, Evans said.

“This proposal is not only immoral and contrary to science, it is illegal,” Evans said, adding: “We will see you in court.”

Environmental groups would have the right to sue once EPA finalizes its changes.

No Evidence of Damage

Adams said the association objected to the Obama-era requirement that companies storing 12,400 tons of coal ash or more demonstrate whether the material could be safely reused.

The Trump EPA agreed to remove that requirement in its proposed changes, but Adams said the agency created a bigger headache for companies by seeking more onerous testing requirements. Under the new proposal, companies would have to test for safe storage of coal ash before it could be placed in a wetland, flood plain, or seismic location, regardless of how much material is involved.

“Without any damage cases or scientific analysis to justify its actions, the agency is seeking to impose burdensome new restrictions that will cause millions more tons of material to be disposed rather than be used in ways that safely conserve natural resources and energy,” Adams told the agency.

What Prompted Rule

The EPA’s 2015 rule in effect now was prompted by the 2008 coal ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston plant that spread over 300 acres, contaminating groundwater that feeds drinking water wells and soil.

Tennessee resident Julie Bledsoe, whose husband and brother-in-law were among the workers involved in the cleanup of the TVA spill, urged the EPA to protect the public from the dangers of coal ash.

She said her husband was denied the use of a dust mask during cleanup and is now suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, even though he never smoked.

The Obama-era regulation, which came about after years of studies and consultations, prohibited the uncontrolled disposal of coal ash into the environment.

The EPA has said that coal ash is one of the largest types of industrial waste generated in the U.S.

According to the American Coal Ash Association’s latest report, about 111.3 million tons of coal ash was generated in 2017, of which 71.8 million tons were reused, primarily in concrete.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amena H. Saiyid in Washington at asaiyid@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloombergenvironment.com

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