Judge: EPA Needs To Hurry Up On Toxic Coal Ash

CREDIT: A.P. Images

The failure of a dam at a Kingston, TN power plant released 1 billion gallons of coal ash.

A federal judge has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to set a deadline to finish long-stalled regulations on the disposal of coal ash, the waste product that comes from burning coal for power.

Since the disastrous 2008 coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee, the EPA has been working on regulations for its disposal. In that spill, a toxic sludge burst through a retaining wall, spreading a billion gallons of liquefied ash over an area of 400 acres, destroying and damaging homes and contaminating rivers.

A recent EPA study found that coal ash contamination of groundwater was widespread, and a 2010 report by Earthjustice and Physicians for Social Responsibility found that it typically contains arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, and selenium, which “can cause cancer and neurological damage in humans,” and harm and kill wildlife.

A 2011 study found that coal ash rules would create 28,000 jobs in addition to saving lives.

But the regulations have been stalled for four years. After the EPA submitted draft rules to the White House Office of Management and Budget in 2009 and received possible alternative, weaker options for regulation, the EPA has taken no action.

Currently, regulation is left up to the states, which Lisa Evans, Senior Administrative Counsel at Earthjustice said in an August email to Climate Progress, leads to “a patchwork of programs, with many states imposing few, and sometimes, no, regulatory safeguards.”

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a memorandum Tuesday directing the EPA to set a deadline within the next 60 days. This came as a result of an Earthjustice-led lawsuit, filed last year to force the EPA to make progress on coal ash regulation.