Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Is coal ash hazardous waste, or isn't it?

Posted By on Wed, May 5, 2010 at 12:18 PM

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been attempting to classify coal ash as hazardous waste for three decades. So, what's the hold up? Guess. Powerful corporations and lobbyists who don't want to pay the price for cleaning up their own messes.

Meanwhile, we lowly average citizens pay the price with our health, as does our river.

In good news, the EPA has announced a 90-day public comment period so you can let them know what you think about Duke Energy's two unlined high-hazard coal ash ponds that sit on the edge of Charlotte's main drinking water reservoir. (Note: There are two other coal ash ponds in the Charlotte area as well.)

To comment:

E-mail your comments to Be sure “Attention Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-RCRA-2009-0640" in the subject line.

Or, fax your comments to 202–566–0272; Attention Docket ID No. EPA-HQRCRA-2009-0640.

Read more about those ponds, and the man that's watchdogging them, here.

Here's a message directly from that watchdog, our Catawba Riverkeeper David Merryman:

May 4, 2010 (Charlotte, NC) – The United States Environmental Protection Agency announced two regulatory options for dealing with the disposal and management of coal ash wastes from coal-fired power plants today. These proposed regulations seemed imminent following the spill of 2.6 million cubic yards of coal ash wastes in Tennessee on December 22, 2008. Despite growing apprehension among environmental groups that regulations were mired in controversy and stuck in Washington’s “red-tape,” the EPA released two proposed options that could result in two very different regulations for coal ash wastes.

“The time has come for common-sense national protections to ensure the safe disposal of coal ash,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “We’re proposing strong steps to address the serious risk of groundwater contamination and threats to drinking water and we’re also putting in place stronger safeguards against structural failures of coal ash impoundments. The health and the environment of all communities must be protected.”

“The four coal ash ponds along the Catawba River have long been under the radar. These proposed rules are a first step towards helping protect our drinking water supply,” stated Catawba Riverkeeper David Merryman.

One option provided today, Subtitle C, would designate coal ash wastes as hazardous and require coal ash ponds, also known as surface impoundments, to be “effectively phased out.” Subtitle C also ensures compliance with regulations through state and federal enforcement and permitting criteria.

Another proposed option, Subtitle D, would regulate coal ash waste under a non-hazardous designation, which requires less stringent storage and use requirements. While Subtitle D would require coal ash ponds to be retrofitted with a composite liner, it would not “phase out” coal ash ponds. If pond owners elect not to line the existing ponds, Subtitle D requires the owner to discontinue usage of the coal ash pond and implement closure of the pond within five years. Opposed to the state and federal authorizations in Subtitle C, Subtitle D only requires self-implementation of corrective actions as well as closure and post-closure care actions, if compliance is not attained within a five year period.

“Our Catawba River - our drinking water supply - deserves absolute assurances that the four coal ash ponds along its banks will be cleaned-out, lined, monitored and closed for usage as soon as possible,” said Merryman. “Subtitle C provides those assurances.”

Both Subtitle C and D would allow for coal ash wastes to be used for beneficial uses, such as “concrete, cement, wallboard and other contained applications that should not involve any exposure by the public to unsafe contaminants,” under the Bevill exemption. Also under this exemption is the use of coal ash waste in agricultural applications, so long as they are deemed beneficial. “EPA supports the legitimate beneficial use of coal combustion residuals,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, the agency office that will be responsible for implementing the proposals.

Following today’s announcement, the public has 90 days to provide comments to the EPA regarding these proposed Coal Ash regulatory options. As stated on EPA’s website, “EPA decided to co-propose two rules to encourage a robust dialogue on the most effective means to address the human health concerns and structural integrity issues associated with coal ash impoundments and landfills. Both options have advantages and disadvantages.  EPA wants to ensure that the ultimate decision is based on the best available data and is taken with the fullest possible extent of public input.”

Listen to people in Tennessee talking about how coal ash has affected their lives:

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