Coal Ash Waste

Cross-posted from Appalachian Voices

The catastrophic TVA coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee in 2008 that released over a billion gallons of coal sludge into the Emory River was a national wake-up call about the dangers of coal ash. After much delay, the EPA has finally issued two competing proposals for the storage and disposal of dirty coal ash waste.
Coal ash mingles with water after the TVA coal ash spill in Harriman, Tennessee December 2008
The stronger of the two, the Subtitle C option, treats coal ash under the more stringent “hazardous waste” designation, but both provisions ignore a loophole that has terrible implication for Appalachian coal regions– there are no standards for minefilling. The practice of minefilling is where coal companies dump coal ash waste into abandoned mines without liners or federal oversight, where it can leach heavy metals when it comes in direct contact with groundwater. Without addressing this issue simultaneously, the EPA is allowing a loophole that will actually encourage coal companies to dump more coal ash into abandoned mines, as other options are more tightly regulated.

Please use the form below to send a message to the EPA today asking them to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste and to address the issue of minefilling as soon as possible.

More Information

Coal combustion waste (CCW) is a by-product of coal fire plants that is disposed in landfills, massive slurry ponds, and even reused in agricultural fertilizers, commercial products, and concrete. 32 states contain coal ash ponds that could be polluting groundwater and surface waters due to leaching, leaking, or air pollution. This is a major public health concern since coal ash contains several heavy metals—such as arsenic, selenium, mercury, lead.

Both of the proposed regulations are designations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which authorizes the EPA to control hazardous wastes from “cradle to grave.” The two options offered by the EPA are Subtitle C (hazardous material) or Subtitle D (non-hazardous solid wastes). If designated under Subtitle C, coal ash would be regulated from generation to transportation to disposal. In comparison, Subtitle D requires no federal enforcement and requirements are regarded as guidelines.

Other important measures that would be implemented under Subtitle C, and not Subtitle D, include: in 7 years wet ponds would be phased out, a set of national disposal regulations, “facility-wide corrective action” which includes active and inactive dump sites, and new dumps must apply for a federal permit (resulting in a public comment period). Not having strong, consistent waste rules across the U.S. would continue the cycle of pollution from coal combustion to waste disposal.

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Coal Ash Waste

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