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Tr-Ash Talk: It’s About Time

Today, 3 years after the largest toxic waste spill in U.S. history, 11 environmental and public health groups will file a lawsuit to force the Environmental Protection Agency to complete its rulemaking and finalize public health safeguards against coal ash pollution.

The EPA has delayed federal protection for decades despite overwhelming evidence that carcinogenic, neurotoxic, mutagenic and other disease-causing chemicals are leaking from coal ash ponds, landfills and fill sites across the U.S.  High on the list of pollutants flowing from coal ash dumps are arsenic, hexavalent chromium, lead, mercury, selenium and thallium.

Delay is the deadliest form of denial.  Delay denies justice.  The EPA’s delay in issuing a coal ash rule places thousands of communities in harm’s way from contaminated drinking water, dangerous dust and potentially deadly coal ash dam failures.  We seek an end to that delay by asking a court to set a date certain for the review and revision of ineffective regulations governing one of the largest toxic waste streams generated by U.S. industry. 

Fifty high-hazard dams have grown by millions of tons since the collapse of the TVA dam in December 2008—with no increased safety requirements to prevent another catastrophic failure.  The lawsuit comes as new data reveal that an additional 29 power plants in 16 states have contaminated water near coal ash dump sites. Thirty coal-fired power plants admitted groundwater polluted by arsenic, lead, boron, cadmium and other chemicals, with multiple new sites in Texas (3), North Carolina (3), Colorado (3), South Carolina (2), Pennsylvania (2), Iowa (3), and West Virginia (5).

Today’s lawsuit asks a federal court to set a deadline. The federal hazardous waste law (RCRA) requires the EPA to review its regulations every three years to ensure that its rules keep pace with threats from the changing nature of industrial waste.

Coal ash is a poster child for the agency’s pattern of missing statutory deadlines. While EPA scientists have found steadily escalating harm to health and the environment from increasingly toxic ash, the agency has missed deadline after deadline for regulatory revision and review.

The EPA must get the rulemaking right.  But there is no excuse for unlimited delay, and the law does not permit it.  Justice delayed is justice denied.