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Environmentalists' Report Faults States' Coal Ash Disposal Rules

Date: September 9, 2011

Source: News Room

Environmental groups have released a report that says most state rules for coal ash disposal fail to prevent air, land and water contamination, arguing that only strict EPA regulation of it as a hazardous waste can adequately protect the environment. In their report, "State of Failure: How States Fail to Protect Our Health and Drinking Water from Toxic Coal Ash," Earthjustice and the Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment examine coal ash disposal rules in 37 states and find that few states require environmental safeguards, such as composite liners for coal ash ponds and landfills, groundwater monitoring or siting rules. "In view of the widespread absence of critical protections in most states, it is absolutely essential" that EPA follow through on its proposal to regulate coal combustion waste as hazardous material under subtitle C of the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA), the report says. EPA is also floating an alternative option of regulating coal ash under less stringent RCRA subtitle D solid waste rules, the approach industry and states favor.

EPA's final ash rule is unlikely to appear until at least 2012 but Republicans in the House are already preparing to vote on a bill to block such rules, in part because the uncertainty of regulation has begun to impact the beneficial reuse market for coal ash, which is used as filler for concrete and other products. H.R. 2273 would block EPA from regulating coal ash as a "special waste" under subtitle C and instead designate it a solid waste under RCRA subtitle D, with states taking the lead on regulating it. EPA issued the proposed coal ash regulatory options last July in response to the massive December 2008 Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash spill. The proposal generated almost 500,000 public comments.

Republicans and Democrats failed to reach any major compromises during a markup of H.R. 2273 in the House Energy & Commerce Committee in July, and the committee finally passed the bill by a vote of 35-12. Republicans did win support from some Democrats on the committee by agreeing to an amendment that would more strictly regulate coal ash ponds, also known as "surface impoundments" and "wet" disposal sites, subjecting them to structural requirements and closure if those requirements are not met.

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