Groups plan suit over EPA coal-ash delays

January 18, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

Here’s the latest, just announced by Earthjustice:

Environmental and public health groups announced their intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in federal court to force the release of long awaited public health safeguards against toxic coal ash. The EPA has delayed the first-ever federal protections for coal ash for nearly two years despite more evidence of leaking ponds, poisoned groundwater supplies and threats to public health.

Earthjustice, on behalf of Appalachian Voices (NC), Chesapeake Climate Action Network (MD), Environmental Integrity Project, French Broad Riverkeeper (NC), Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KY), Moapa band of Paiutes (NV), Montana Environmental Information Center (MT), Physicians for Social Responsibility, Prairie Rivers Network (IL), Sierra Club and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (TN), sent the EPA a notice of intent to sue the agency under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The law requires the EPA to ensure that safeguards are regularly updated to address threats posed by wastes. However, the EPA has never undertaken any action to ensure safeguards address the known threats posed by coal ash, a toxic mix of arsenic, lead, hexavalent chromium, mercury, selenium, cadmium and other dangerous pollutants that result from burning coal at coal-fired power plants.

The notice of intent to sue is available online here.   Earthjustice said in its press release:

Following a spill of more than a billion gallons of coal ash at a disposal pond in Harriman, TN, in December 2008, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced in 2009 plans to set federal coal ash regulations by year’s end. In May 2010, the EPA proposed a hybrid regulation to classify coal ash either as hazardous or non-hazardous waste. After eight public hearings across the country and more than 450,000 public comments, the agency decided to delay finalizing the rule amid intense pressure from the coal and power industries.

Despite numerous studies showing the inadequacy of current federal coal ash safeguards to protect public health and the environment as well as documented evidence by the EPA and environmental groups showing coal ash poisoned aquifers and surface waters at 150 sites in 36 states, the EPA continues to fail to adopt federal safeguards. Today’s lawsuit would force the EPA to set deadlines for review and revision of relevant solid and hazardous waste regulations to address coal ash, as well as the much needed and overdue changes to the test that determines whether a waste is hazardous under RCRA.

Earthjustice coal ash expert Lisa Evans said:

Politics and pressure from corporate lobbyists are delaying much needed health protections from coal ash. The law states that the EPA should protect citizens who are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals in their drinking water from coal ash. As we clean up the smokestacks of power plants, we can’t just shift the pollution from air to water and think the problem is solved. The EPA must set strong, federally enforceable safeguards against this toxic menace.

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