May 17, 2023
Where are Coal Ash Dump Sites?
Use this map to understand where coal ash might be stored near you and how a given site may be impacted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s expansion of the federal Coal Ash Rule.
This map displays power plant sites across the country that have currently regulated and/or unregulated legacy coal ash dump sites.
Despite EPA’s 2015 Coal Ash Rule, which created the first-ever safeguards for coal ash disposal, many coal ash dumps remain unregulated due to sweeping exemptions for legacy coal ash ponds and inactive landfills. The exempted coal ash dumps are sited disproportionately in low-income communities and communities of color.
Based on analysis of industry data provided to the EPA, Earthjustice identified 566 landfills and ponds at 242 coal plants in 40 states that were excluded from EPA regulations.
Coal Ash Analysis by State
Learn about groundwater contamination from coal ash in 31 states and Puerto Rico.
The EPA issued a proposed rule to address most of these exemptions on May 17, 2023. The revisions must address the failure of the 2015 Coal Ash Rule to regulate approximately half of all coal ash in the U.S. — more than a billion tons — stored in legacy coal ash ponds and landfills. At many of these legacy sites, EPA determined that coal ash has contaminated groundwater but does not require monitoring, closure, or cleanup. Making matters worse, industry has often blamed pollution from regulated dumps on nearby unregulated dumps, a sleight of hand that allows them to avoid cleanup responsibility.
The 2015 coal ash rule does not currently apply to:
- Coal ash ponds at retired plants that ceased generating power by October 19, 2015 (legacy ponds)
- Coal ash landfills that stopped receiving waste by October 19, 2015 (“inactive” or legacy landfills)
Legacy coal ash dump sites displayed in this map were identified via analysis of EPA datasets used in 2007 and 2014 coal ash risk assessments (Human and Ecological Risk Assessment of Coal Combustion Residuals). These EPA datasets rely on industry-reported data. Ash may have been excavated from some of these historic dump sites since then. Earthjustice expects that this analysis underestimates the number of legacy dump sites, given that it likely does not include plants that stopped burning coal long before EPA conducted the 2007 and 2014 risk assessments. Even if coal ash is fully or partially excavated, contamination at the site may remain, and most sites are not monitored or fully remediated.
Detailed information on regulated coal ash sites is also available.
What is Coal Ash?
For decades, utilities disposed of coal ash – the hazardous substance left after burning coal for energy – by dumping it in unlined ponds and landfills.
Coal ash contains hazardous pollutants including arsenic, boron, cobalt, chromium, lead, lithium, mercury, molybdenum, radium, selenium, and other heavy metals, which have been linked to cancer, heart and thyroid disease, reproductive failure, and neurological harm.
Industry’s own data indicate that across the country 91% of coal plants are currently polluting groundwater above federal health standards with toxic pollutants.
Coal ash remains one of our nation’s largest toxic industrial waste streams. U.S. coal plants continue to produce approximately 70 million tons every year.
EPA must move quickly to stop the flow of toxic releases from hundreds of leaking dumps and require effective cleanups before communities are irreparably harmed.
The companies that profited from burning coal for decades must not be allowed to walk away from dealing with the hundreds of coal ash dumps leaking toxic waste into groundwater.
Earthjustice fights in the courts for a long-term solution to the toxic menace of coal ash. And we act on behalf of dozens of clients and over 100 coalition partners to defeat legislative attempts to subvert federally enforceable safeguards of coal ash.
Earthjustice’s Clean Energy Program uses the power of the law and the strength of partnership to accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy.