Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Coal Ash Spills
Virginia is now examining the effects of the coal ash spill that recently occurred in North Carolina:
What is coal ash?
Simply put, coal ash is the wate byprouduct of an energy producing coal plant.
The industry has been largely unregulated, but in Janauary of 2014, the Department of Justice on behalf of the EPA lodged a consent decree with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that requires the EPA to publish a final rule addressing the disposal of coal ash by Dec. 19, 2014. The settlement came as a result of a lawsuit brought by 10 public interest groups and the Moapa Band of Paiutes against the EPA for its failure to review and revise its regulations pertaining to coal ash. The settlement does not dictate the content of the final regulation, but it confirms that the agency will finalize a rule by a date certain after years of delay.
If there has ever been a time to celebrate a victory on coal ash over the last three decades, today is the day.
The Kingston coal ash spill in December 2008.(TVA Photo)
EPA’s coal ash rulemaking was triggered by the largest toxic waste spill in U.S. history when a billion gallons of coal ashburst through a dam at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County, Tennessee. While damage to health and the environment had been occurring for decades at hundreds of sites throughout the nation, the headline-making disaster brought a commitment in 2009 from then-Administrator Lisa Jackson to establish federal disposal standards within the year.
But, amazingly, the catastrophic collapse of the TVA dam was not enough to push EPA to complete its rulemaking. Only after Earthjustice and other public health and environmental groups sued did the EPA commit to a deadline for a final rule and break the logjam of delay and dangerous deferral.
This consent decree ends the inexcusable and destructive 30-year delay in establishing rules for safe disposal of the nation’s second largest industrial waste stream. No other industry in this country, save the mining industry, has a license to dump toxic waste in our water at the massive scale enjoyed by our coal-burning power plants. The industry estimates that they have generated 3 billion tons of coal ash since the beginning of the last century. Not an ounce has been subject to disposal regulations that ensure its safe, long-term disposal. This, we hope, will change in 2014.
While the consent decree sets an enforceable deadline for the publication of the coal ash rule, it does not dictate its content. The EPA still has discretion to finalize either of the two proposals it published in June 2010.
The benefits of a strong coal ash rule for our health and environment are immense—and this ruling comes none too soon to protect the air, water and safety of communities living near more than 1,000 massive coal ash impoundments, ponds, dry landfills and other coal ash dumpsites.
At FAVALORO LAW OFFICES we remain committed to protecting individuals, neighborhoods and communities when environmental disaster hits. Contact us if you or your family and friends has encountered such a situation.