Coal Ash Spill Prompts Call For EPA Strict Regulation

Date: November 4, 2011

Source: News Room

On Oct. 31 coal ash from a Wisconsin power plant leaked into Lake Michigan, which together with new data from the EPA indicating the vulnerability of ash impoundments, is prompting environmental groups, including Earthjustice and others, to call for lawmakers to drop their legislative efforts to prevent EPA from regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste. “This is not some ‘freak accident,’ for a century billions of tons coal ash has been buried, piled and ponded without regulation and without consideration of the consequences,” said Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans. She noted the approach of the three-year anniversary of the massive coal ash spill at a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant which prompted EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to launch the agency’s rulemaking effort. Evans and other environmentalists issued statements in response to a fill project that on Oct. 31 spilled into Lake Michigan from the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant in Milwaukee County, WI. The company said in a statement that the spilled material was “likely” coal ash that had been used as fill material but that it is “not hazardous material” and “[it] is unlikely there will be any health impacts at all from this event.”

The environmental groups refer to new EPA research showing a three-fold increase in the number of ash disposal ponds that could pose hazards to surrounding areas. According to Earthjustice, EPA recently released a new set of data that reveals 181 ‘significant’ hazard coal ash dams in 18 states. “This is more than three times the 60 significant-hazard ponds listed in the original database released in 2009,” the group said.

Despite the indicated risks, EPA seems a long way off from crafting new regulations to address the ash. The agency is still taking comment on additional data issued last summer. At the same time, they are pouring over an estimated 450,000 comments on its proposal to regulate ash as either a hazardous waste or a non-hazardous waste or even hazardous under some conditions. Its deadline to issue a final rule is still “to be determined,” according to the unified agenda.

Meanwhile in Congress, the House recently passed a bipartisan bill that would preempt EPA’s pending measure while allowing states to craft their own non-hazardous waste programs. Although the White House stopped short of threatening to veto the measure, it appears unlikely to make it through the Senate, where key Democrats and environmentalists strongly oppose it in its current form.

PRESS RELEASE
November 1, 2011

Coal Ash Spills Into Lake Michigan in Wisconsin

Washington, D.C. — On Monday, coal ash spilled into Lake Michigan from a bluff near the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has stalled on plans to release the first-ever coal ash regulations that might have prevented this spill. In the meantime the House passed a bill preventing EPA from moving forward and the Senate is currently considering the same bill (S. 1751). The following statement is from Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans:

“How many coal ash spills are going to have to occur before Congress and the EPA acknowledge the very real dangers posed by this industrial waste? This is not some ‘freak accident,’ for a century billions of tons coal ash has been buried, piled and ponded without regulation and without consideration of the consequences. We’re coming up on the three-year anniversary of the TVA coal ash disaster and it is disheartening that we still have no measures in place to protect the public against toxic ash.

“While we wait for yet another clean-up, we’re battling Senate polluter benefactors who deny that coal ash is anything but mud. If this Senate legislation sees the light of day it must be stopped in its tracks by the White House. This event must be a wake-up call for our government to take action now.”

For more information, contact:
Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice, (202) 745-5221
.

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