Amid EPA Delay, Activists Step Up Lawsuits to Regulate Coal Ash

Date: March 4, 2013

Source: News Room

While EPA wrestles with how to regulate coal ash and while Congress debates over whether to preempt EPA from regulating it as a hazardous waste, environmental groups press for change through the courts. Coal ash or coal combustion residuals (CCRs) are the byproduct of combustion at coal-fired power plants, and contain heavy metals and other toxic substances. According to EPA's website, ash is often mixed with water and disposed on site in large containment ponds, many of which are unlined.

Since a catastrophic failure of one of these ponds at a TVA plant in Kingston, TN in 2008, EPA has debated whether to regulate coal ash as a "hazardous" waste subject to strict subtitle C rules under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), or under less stringent subtitle D rules. EPA said it does not expect to issue a rule until 2014. That delay worries environmentalists who claim that the pollution continues and is in violation of state laws. The industry worries that any hazardous designation would dramatically raise their costs and decimate a vibrant market for recycling the material. States do not like the idea of EPA usurping their regulatory authority. Both groups have lobbied Congress to pass legislation that would bar EPA from doing so. Environmental groups oppose the bill for failing to set a safety standard which a recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report said would lead to litigation over congressional intent.

To press their case, environmental groups have recently filed a number of lawsuits against power companies and states, primarily in the southeast, which is abundant in coal-fired power plants. Last month, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) filed a notice of intent to sue Santee Cooper. In late January, environmentalists filed 13 separate lawsuits in Georgia state court against Georgia Power and Florida Light & Power, and in Alabama, SELC sent a notice of intent to sue to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

Sign up to receive our free Weekly News Bulletin