EPA Considers Enforcement of Impoundments; Coal Ash Sites May be Difficult

Date: September 14, 2009

Source: News Room

The EPA Office of Enforcement & Compliance Assurance (OECA) is said to be considering a new national enforcement priority against surface impoundments, including coal ash disposal sites for fiscal years 2011-13. Through its web site, EPA's enforcement office is seeking public comment on its enforcement priorities. And, many activists would like the agency to pursue enforcement against coal ash impoundments, in light of the December spill in Tennessee. That will likely take effect only after EPA issues its pending first-time Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA) rules for coal waste disposal. Adding an issue to OECA's list of priorities requires three factors: that there is widespread non-compliance, that the issue is national in scope, and that it has a large environmental impact. However, since there are at present no coal waste rules in place, there can be no widespread non-compliance, making it difficult to list them as a priority.

In light of the TVA spill, EPA conducted an inventory of the 584 coal ash ponds operating in the country but announced last week that it has decided not to take emergency or enforcement actions at any of the sites.

The announcement accompanies the agency's publication of a list of coal ash pond sites, which activists released Aug. 31 after obtaining it via a Freedom of Information Act request. The activists claimed that the list -- the first definitive national compilation of data on coal ash ponds -- shows the ponds are more widespread than was previously thought and therefore more pose a greater threat to public health and the environment.

EPA says there are 49 sites with "high-hazard potential" -- those whose failure would likely endanger human life -- which is five more than was previously disclosed. The report indicates that an additional 60 sites are rated as "significant," and says 390 of the sites, or 67 percent, have not been rated for hazard potential at all.

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