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EPA Releases First-Ever Coal Ash Rule

Greg Goebel
Wikimedia Commons




On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency released the first national guidelines to regulate the disposal of coal ash. This dust-like substance is what is leftover when power plans burn coal for electricity and can contain toxins like arsenic, lead, and mercury.  Coal ash is usually collected and then buried in a disposal pond or landfill. In some cases, it can be recycled.

The EPA's new rule aims to make it safer to get rid of this material because, if done improperly, disposal can lead to contaminated drinking water and air. But the agency stopped short of classifying it has a "hazardous material," as it had in one of the two preliminary proposals. In a press call, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said that the available data just didn't support that designation.

Here are some of the requirements that will address the risks of disposal leakage and contamination:

  • Closure of disposal sites that don't meet certain engineering standards
  • Regular safety inspections of disposal sites
  • Restrictions on the locations of new disposal sites so that they cannot be built in sensitive areas such as wetlands and earthquake zones
  • Closure of unlined disposal sites
  • Requiring liner barriers for new disposal sites

The EPA started working on the issue of coal ash in the wake of a massive spill in Tennessee in 2008 that cost over $1 billion to clean up. In February, a pipeline running under a coal ash disposal pond in North Carolina burst, contaminating a nearby river.

Email: lpaterson@insideenergy.org; leighpaterson@rmpbs.org
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