EPA Bails on Serious Coal Ash Regulation

Very disappointing move by the Obama administration. The EPA has announced that it will not classify coal ash, a toxic by-product of coal power generation, as a toxic waste but will regulate it only as a solid waste, like household trash.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday issued its first-ever regulations on coal ash, a toxic byproduct of burning coal for power. But to environmentalists’ chagrin, the agency declined to designate the substance as a hazardous waste.

Instead, coal ash will be regulated similarly to household garbage. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy assured reporters on Friday that designating coal ash as solid waste, rather than hazardous waste, would be sufficient to prevent catastrophic spills of coal ash from the ponds the substance is often stored in, and to prevent it from leaching into groundwater, as it has in the past…

Coal ash — which often contains chemicals like arsenic, chromium, mercury, and lead — is the second-largest form of waste generated in the United States. After producing it, coal companies sometimes dispose of it by dumping it into ditches, and filling those ditches with water. Those ditches, called coal ash ponds or lagoons, are often unlined, meaning the coal ash comes in direct contact with the environment. It has, until now, never been federally regulated.

Under the new rule, all new coal ash pits must be lined. In addition, the hundreds of old, unlined pits must be immediately cleaned up — but only if they are found to be actively polluting groundwater, and only if they are attached to active power plants. That’s a problem for environmentalists, because hundreds of old, decrepit coal ash ponds are attached to coal plants that are no longer producing power. The EPA says it does not have legal authority to regulate those.

I don’t think this is anywhere near adequate. I’m glad that they’ll be requiring that coal ash ponds be lined, but given the huge number of old, unlined ponds that are just a disaster waiting to happen, something has to be done to clean them up before it’s too late and the local environment is destroyed.

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  • U Frood

    only if they are found to be actively polluting groundwater

    And I’m sure the owners of the pits are under no responsibility to check whether they’re polluting the groundwater themselves.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Coal ash — which often contains chemicals like arsenic, chromium, mercury, and lead — is the second-largest form of waste generated in the United States.

    “Waste”? Come on! These companies should be getting tax rebates for releasing all those vitamins and nutrients into the environment!

     

    I’m glad that they’ll be requiring that coal ash ponds be lined, but given the huge number of old, unlined ponds that are just a disaster waiting to happen, something has to be done to clean them up before it’s too late and the local environment is destroyed.

    Oh, sure, just like Love Canal was a “disaster”. I was there, and those kids were all fine. If anything, playing in the oozing and fizzing puddles made them stronger. And you can’t prove they so-called “caused” those sores and rashes!

    Well, I wasn’t “there”, exactly. I was in the rich neighborhood upstream, but my opinion is the same.

    In any event, harm that doesn’t effect me isn’t harm. What you call “negative externalities” I call “profit”. It’s a little thing called the Free Market, and if you people had better lobbyists, you’d be able to take advantage of it like I have.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    What you call “negative externalities” I call “profit”.

    As has often been said, negative externalities are not a market failure, they’re a cost-transfer success.

  • Crimson Clupeidae

    They figure the rising sea levels will eventually dilute all those ponds. It’s like homeopathy for the environment!

  • lorn

    No worries. I’m sure the free market capitalism will swiftly regulate itself as it always has, and always will, and make sure nobody of any importance is inconvenienced.

  • joseph

    Hopefully one of the enviro groups will sue. Obama is no environmental champion.

  • lorn

    There really isn’t much Obama can do.

    The agencies have been systematically co-opted/captured by the industries they are charged with regulating, and have been for well over a decade. The agency has been defunded, and its ability to regulate has been circumscribed to ever smaller sectors by rule of law. In example: the EPA isn’t even legally able to ask frackers what chemicals and materials they use. The EPA is not allowed to discuss, test, or make suggestions dealing with lead around ammunition manufacturers or firing ranges. There are similar constraints when dealing with coal producers using mountaintop removal, some aspects of global warming, waste containment on factory farms …

    Without a funding, laws, and judges wiling to enforce laws regulation is simply a matter of documenting the atrocities. A wildlife biologist once told me over a beer that there is no hope of saving the endangered species he studies. He knows that there is no political will, money, willingness to make changes necessary to save them. He documents the losses to a very high standard and in great detail.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    Just as planned. I mean, if we start treating the issues scientifically, we might just fix the problems with IFR, LFTR, or some other clean, safe, abundant, nuclear technology. Can’t have that.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Well, no, EL, we really can’t have that, unless we’re willing to: a) pay more taxes so the US Government can take the lead in research and development of safer and more advanced nuclear technologies; and b) do whatever it takes to force the nuclear industry to be responsive to the people’s needs and not immediately start skimping on safety to maximize profit at every turn.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Raging Bee

    Unfortunate, isn’t it. Damned libertarians.

  • thebookofdave

    given the huge number of old, unlined ponds that are just a disaster waiting to happen, something has to be done to clean them up

    This looks like a chore that local Adopt-an-Ashpit groups are ideally suited to handle. We could organize cleanup crews, and have the waste bagged and picked up with Tuesdays curbside trash. Ya see, sometimes complex problems do have simple solutions!