The spill of 82,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River in North Carolina is the latest illustration of the need for federal coal ash regulations. The nation’s third largest coal ash spill came just days after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency settled a federal lawsuit brought by Earthjustice to finalize coal ash protections by December 19.
Toxic coal ash from Duke Energy’s Dan River Power Station has been flowing into the Dan River since February 2. Although Duke Energy closed the plant in 2012, the 58-year old unlined coal ash pond still contained about 100 million gallons of coal ash. Federal regulations for coal ash would have directed Duke and other coal ash operators to properly manage these dumpsites, potentially preventing the disaster that is still occurring in North Carolina. According to EPA estimates, the coal ash released into the river contains about 7,300 pounds of arsenic.
The EPA proposed coal ash regulations in 2010 but has since languished in finalizing them. In 2012, Earthjustice, on behalf of Appalachian Voices (NC); Chesapeake Climate Action Network (MD); Environmental Integrity Project (D.C., PA); Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KY); Moapa Band of Paiutes (NV); Montana Environmental Information Center (MT); Physicians for Social Responsibility (DC); Prairie Rivers Network (IL); Sierra Club (CA); Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (eight southeast states); and Western North Carolina Alliance (NC), sued the EPA in federal court to force the agency to set the first ever federal regulations for storing and dumping coal ash. On January 29, the EPA settled the case by committing to finalize the regulations by December 19.
The following statement is from Lisa Evans, former EPA attorney, now senior administrative counsel at Earthjustice:
“The North Carolina spill is reminiscent of a massive coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee in 2008. Shortly after that spill, the EPA promised to finalize coal ash protections to keep safe the people living near these dumpsites.
“But the coal ash problem has only gotten worse. At 309 coal ash sites, the EPA says that a catastrophic failure would result in the loss of life or significant environmental and economic harm. These sites are unregulated, and the problem is only getting worse.
“The EPA said it will finalize federal coal ash regulations by December 19. For the hundreds of thousands of people living near these toxic sites, that date can’t come too soon. Let’s just hope these protections are in place before another tragedy occurs.”