TN Sierra Club: EPA Coal Ash Standards Don’t Go ‘Far Enough’

Press release from the Sierra Club of Tennessee; December 19, 2014:

Standards Arrive Days Before December 22 Anniversary of Kingston Spill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced the first-ever federal coal ash protections aimed at the 140 million tons of ash pollution produced annually by America’s coal plants. Coal ash, the toxic by-product created after coal is burned, contains heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and selenium and other health threatening substances. The public health hazards and environmental threats to nearby communities from unsafe coal ash storage have been documented for decades, including increased risk of cancer, learning disabilities, neurological disorders, birth defects, asthma, and other serious illnesses.

For years, environmental and public health organizations have called on the EPA and the Obama Administration to implement common-sense protections for retired and active coal ash sites that treat the disposal of this toxic waste stream with the same level of scrutiny as other dangerous substances.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Tennessee’s coal ash impoundments can hold up to 16.8 billion gallons of coal ash and the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) coal plants generate 3.2 million tons of coal ash annually – ranking Tennessee as the 13th highest coal ash producing state in the nation.

In November 2013, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) released a report entitled “TVA’s Toxic Legacy: Groundwater Contaminated by TVA Coal Ash” confirming groundwater contamination at each of TVA’s 11 coal plants.

In response to the new standards, Brian Paddock, Legal Chair of the Tennessee Sierra Club, issued the following statement:

“Before EPA’s announcement today, coal ash disposal was not subject to any federal oversight, and state laws governing its disposal were usually weak or non-existent. For decades, coal ash has been dumped in the backyards of power plants across the nation, into open-air pits and precarious surface waste ponds along our nation’s waterways. Most of these sites lacked adequate safeguards and left nearby communities at risk from groundwater contamination, ash piles blowing into nearby communities or large-scale disasters like the massive coal ash spill from the Kingston coal plant here in Tennessee in 2008 and, most recently, the Dan River spill in North Carolina.

“While EPA and the Obama Administration have taken a modest first step by introducing some protections on the disposal of coal ash, they do not go far enough to protect families from this toxic pollution. We welcome federal efforts on this issue, but Sierra Club has significant concerns about what has been omitted from these protections and how they will be enforced in states like Tennessee that have historically had poor track records on coal ash disposal.

“Some parts of the rule provide useful tools for communities, like requiring groundwater monitoring and dust controls around coal ash sites and making that data available to the public, but we are disappointed that it allows utilities to continue disposing of coal ash in ponds and does not incorporate strong federal enforcement. The standard still leaves people to largely fend for themselves against powerful utility interests that have historically ignored public health in favor of delayed action.

“We will continue to push the EPA and Tennessee’s Department of Environment and Conservation to make sure coal ash is properly disposed of and monitored, now and in the future. Today was a step forward, but it was a step too small to guarantee the level of action necessary for Americans living near these sites.”