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Senate Bill Kills Coal Ash Cleanup Efforts

ND Senators lead the effort despite evidence of “poor-rated” coal ash ponds in their state
October 20, 2011
Washington, D.C. —

Although their state has three coal ash impoundments rated as “poor” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, North Dakota Senators John Hoeven and Kent Conrad today introduced a bill that cuts EPA efforts to regulate coal ash disposal. Their bill is identical to H.R. 2273, which passed the House of Representatives last Friday.

North Dakota has unresolved coal ash problems at three dangerous dams and a history of serious contamination by coal ash, yet Senators Hoeven and Conrad are ready to embrace a bill that will, according to the White House, “undermine the Federal government’s ability to ensure that requirements for management and disposal of coal combustion residuals are protective of human health and the environment.”

The Senate bill will also kill 28,000 potential new jobs that would be created by a strong coal ash rule, according to a new report by a Tufts University senior economist.

“It is beyond irresponsible for the senators to offer a bill that fails to cure the safety problems facing their own state,” says Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans. “And it is with great disregard of their civic responsibility that they support a bill that places the citizens of other states at great peril.”

Last week, the EPA released the results of 144 new inspections of significant and high hazard coal ash ponds. EPA inspectors gave 48 of the ponds “poor” ratings, including the three large coal ash ponds in North Dakota.

Despite the obvious threats coal ash have on drinking waters and nearby communities, the House passed H.R. 2273, a bill that blocks the EPA from setting the first-ever federal regulations for toxic coal ash, America’s second largest industrial waste.

“Those who will pay the greatest price aren’t the polluter who would have to clean up their mess, it’s the communities and families living near these toxic dumps,” states Evans.

EPA inspectors found fault with the three significant-hazard coal ash ponds at the Leland Olds Power Station in Stanton, ND, about 50 miles northwest of Bismarck. All three ponds lacked the necessary slope stability and hydraulic and liquefaction analyses to confirm stability. The EPA rates dams “poor” when there are no tests to confirm the dams’ stability.

Also, the oldest and highest pond (approximately 3.5 stories tall) lacked erosion protection. This dam is 46 years old, beyond the recommended lifespan of 40 years for a coal ash impoundment. The other two ponds are approximately 35 years old. None of the dams was designed, constructed or maintained by a professional engineer, according to information submitted to the EPA by the owner of the dams, Basin Electric Coop.

According to the EPA, a significant hazard potential classification is given to dams where failure or mis-operation can cause economic loss, environment damage, disruption of lifeline facilities, or have other impacts. The significant-hazard dams at the Leland Olds Power Station had not been inspected in the last 5 years, according to the plant owner.

Like many other states, North Dakota has very poor regulations governing the management and inspection of coal ash ponds. Deficiencies include the state’s failure to require regulatory inspections of ponds, as well as the failure to require emergency action plans or inundation mapping. Also like many other states, North Dakota fails to require all ponds to be lined, and water monitoring data to be submitted to the state.

Also, North Dakota has experienced severe contamination of groundwater and surface water from poor coal ash management, including poisoning of drinking water with toxic chemicals like arsenic, cadmium, chromium and lead. Of the more than 137 documented coal ash-contaminated sites nationwide, five are in North Dakota.

Contacts

Lisa Evans, Earthjustice (781) 631-4119

Jared Saylor, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500, ext. 5213

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.