League Testifies at EPA Coal Ash Hearing

  • Posted by Dawn Merritt

    From Scott Kovarovics, IWLA Conservation Director

    On August 30, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held the first of seven public hearings on proposed rules to regulate the storage and disposal of coal ash. I testified on behalf of the League in support of strong, effective, and uniform federal standards to replace spotty-to-nonexistent state rules.
     
    We burn a lot of coal every year in this country to generate electricity, and that leaves a mountain of ash – more than 130 million tons of coal ash per year, according to EPA estimates. This ash is composed of a host of toxic chemicals and heavy metals, including chromium, arsenic, cadmium, and selenium, that are hazardous to people, fish, and wildlife. Yet in many cases, coal ash is stored in unlined ponds and on the surface at power plants nationwide. Metals and chemicals can leach from these ponds into the groundwater or nearby streams and rivers and pollute drinking water, kill fish, and damage outdoor recreation.
     
    In spite of the threats, most states do not have effective rules to protect water quality or limit the likelihood that old storage ponds could be breached and spill millions of gallons of polluted water. And there are no national standards today to fill in these serious safety gaps.
     
    EPA is proposing two approaches to coal ash national standards. One, which the League supported at the hearing, would establish effective, protective, and enforceable national regulations that would apply to coal ash storage and disposal. Basic protections such as liners, systems to collect runoff, and groundwater monitoring – which are common at many municipal landfills – would become standard. And EPA could enforce these rules.
     
    The second option is far weaker and less protective. Under this option, EPA would issue guidelines to states, which states could then adopt or ignore. EPA would not have any ability to enforce the guidelines. Although this option might sound different than the haphazard, state-by-state approach we have in place today, in practice, it wouldn't be much different.
     
    We've made real progress limiting air pollution from coal. EPA needs to adopt strong, national standards to limit pollution from what's left.

    – Scott Kovarovics, IWLA Conservation Director

    Photo copyright Corbis/Fotosearch

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