EPA Finally Releases First Ever Federal Safeguards for Coal Ash

Agency offers two plans: one good, one bad

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It’s been a long time coming, but they’re finally here: the EPA announced today plans to set the first ever federal safeguards for coal ash, one of America’s most dangerous wastes. But what they really did was announce two plans: one good and one bad. The agency will accept public comment on both plans and then decide which to pursue.

The good plan classifies coal ash as hazardous waste, a move we’ve been pushing the EPA to make for some time. The agency also proposed, however, to classify coal ash as non-hazardous (the bad plan), a move that will not yield strong protections for communities and won’t get at the problems associated with coal ash ponds and landfills.

Coal ash contains dangerously high levels of arsenic, selenium, mercury and much more. Waters have been contaminated at more than 100 coal ash sites across the country, and there could be others. So much coal ash is generated each year that it could fill train cars extending from the North to South Poles, and enough coal ash is currently stored in ponds and landfills that it could fill approximately 738 Empire State Buildings. If we dumped all the coal ash being stored in ponds and landfills into Olympic-sized swimming pools, it would take Michael Phelps nearly 17 years to swim through it all (not that he’d want to, though).

The fight is just beginning. The EPA will hold a 90-day public comment period, starting in a few weeks. This is a crucial time when folks from all over the country need to send a strong, unified message that coal ash is hazardous waste and we need the strongest federally enforceable safeguards to protect our health and environment. We’ll keep you posted about ways you can help, so stay tuned for more info soon!

Jared was the head coach of Earthjustice's advocacy campaign team from 2004 to 2014.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.