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Despite 'Niagara' of Coal Ash, EPA Treads Water on Regulations


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18 May 2010, 2:36 PM
Why the hold up? We're drowning in this toxic mess
Coal ash floods Tennessee neighborhood

Coal-fired power plants generate enough coal ash every year to fill a train stretching from the North Pole all the way to the South Pole. There is enough coal ash being stored in ponds and landfills to fill 738 Empire State Buildings, or flow continuously over Niagara Falls for three days straight. It's no mystery that we create staggering amounts of coal ash, the dangerous byproduct of burning coal to fuel our energy demands.

But what remains a mystery is why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency still hasn't made a clear commitment to federal safeguards that ensure protections for our health and environment against this hazardous waste.

On May 4, the EPA finally issued the first-ever regulations on coal ash. They sent these proposed rules to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) back in October 2009, and after OMB had nearly 30 meetings with industry lobbyists for the polluters responsible for coal ash problems, the EPA took the unusual step of issuing two separate regulations: one regulates coal ash as hazardous waste (a move supported by scientists and environmental groups); another regulates coal ash as non-hazardous waste (a cheaper and less protective option that polluters favor).

By not expressing any preference, EPA has essentially taken a middle-of-the-road path that, as Mr. Miyagi said in the film "The Karate Kid," "Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later, squish like grape."

But the EPA is not entirely to blame. A few days after they released their hodge-podge proposal, a draft circulated from their original proposal sent to OMB back in February showed they clearly favored a hazardous waste designation for coal ash. Edits from OMB removed many references to coal ash as "hazardous waste," optioning instead to call it "special waste." The OMB changes essentially pulled the rug from underneath EPA's original plans to set the strongest standards for coal ash ponds and landfills the law allows.

The public comment period on the EPA's two-part plan should begin sometime this summer. Dozens of national and local environmental and public health groups are planning coordinated outreach to our members and supporters to send a strong message to the EPA and the Obama administration: coal ash is hazardous waste. We need federally enforceable safeguards that guarantee communities near the hundreds of coal ash dumps receive the strongest protections.
 

But, they are both bad -- doubling up does little to change liners' inherent failings. At some point we need to confront the more elemental question that all this raises, and in the near term, it should behoove us to not push back for a remedy that, in fact, does nothing other than mask the true dimensions of the problem for a tad longer. sesli sohbet

Dear Earthjustice, Since the classification of coal ash as hazardous waste public comment locations are too far and few for most concerned citizens to attend we hope as supporters of Earthjustice you will attend these meetings and ask EPA to classify coal ash as harzardous waste. Thank you,

Yes, but at the same time, it is also vital to understand that even with a hazardous tag and mandated disposal in Subtitle C hazardous landfills, that does NOTHING to resolve the long-term threats by the long lived hazardous constituents of coal ash.

Liner based systems, regardless of whether they are double liners, all have limited lives. EPA has conceded this self-apparent fact several times through the 1980s in the Federal Register.

In the narrow sense, the limiting condition of long term safety may well be the leachate collection lines, which are prone to clogging and the "bathtub" effect, rather than liner durability.

And, in the broader contemplation, whether, illustratively, Subtitle C's double liners will last 60 years instead of 40 years does not change the essential paradigm -- liners delay but do NOT prevent pollution. And, of course, to take your point, pretending the ash is a "special waste" in order to continue being buried in single composite liner Subtitle D landfills is, if anything, somewhat worse. But, they are both bad -- doubling up does little to change liners' inherent failings.

At some point we need to confront the more elemental question that all this raises, and in the near term, it should behoove us to not push back for a remedy that, in fact, does nothing other than mask the true dimensions of the problem for a tad longer.

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