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Court-ordered coal ash protections to benefit Illinois communities

October 3, 2013

Online Staff Report

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A federal judge agreed with environmental and public health groups that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs to set federal regulations for the safe and proper disposal of toxic coal ash. A copy of the judge’s order can be found at http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/RCRA_NOI_Order.pdf.

The groups filed the lawsuit in April 2012 challenging the EPA’s lack of federal regulations for America’s second-largest industrial waste stream. This is critical for Illinois because while the state generates 4.4 million tons of coal ash every year, and imports coal ash for disposal from at least six states, this harmful waste product is handled according to outdated and ineffective state rules that were written more than three decades ago.

Traci Barkley, water resource scientist for Prairie Rivers Network, said: “In most states — at ponds, landfills, and mine pits where coal ash gets dumped — a slow seepage of the ash’s metals has poisoned water supplies, damaged ecosystems and jeopardized citizens’ health. Unfortunately, the Illinois communities of Marion, Joliet, Venice, Oakwood, Havana, Alton, Powerton, Hennepin, Hutsonville, Canton, Wood River and Coffeen now know this. We are long overdue for an update. It is well past time the EPA acts on promises made years ago to protect the nation from coal ash contamination and life-threatening coal ash ponds.”

The order of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia offered little details about the timing or substance of the EPA’s rulemaking, but said it will issue a Memorandum Opinion within the next 30 days with more specifics.

For now, the decision marks the first step toward federally enforceable safeguards, monitoring and protections against coal ash.

In its order, the court did deny one of the environmentalists’ claims regarding testing procedures for coal ash contamination, but more details are needed before the groups are fully able to understand the implications.

Coal ash has already contaminated more than 200 rivers, lakes, streams and aquifers with toxic pollutants like arsenic, lead, selenium and mercury. In 2008, a spill at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tenn., dumped 1 billion gallons of coal ash over 300 acres, destroying homes and poisoning rivers. That spill led to the EPA proposing in May 2010 the first federal regulations for coal ash disposal. The agency never finalized that rulemaking, leaving open the opportunity for the power-generating industry and some members of Congress to push for legislation that would prevent the EPA from ever setting federal regulations.

The following statement is from the groups that filed the lawsuit: Appalachian Voices (North Carolina); Chesapeake Climate Action Network (Maryland); Environmental Integrity Project (Washington, D.C.); Earthjustice (Washington, D.C.); French Broad Riverkeeper (North Carolina); Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (Kentucky); Moapa Band of Paiutes (Nevada); Montana Environmental Information Center (Montana); Prairie Rivers Network (Illinois); Sierra Club (Washington, D.C.); and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (eight southeast states):

The impacts of coal ash pollution are being felt across the country. Our groups represent millions of Americans who want clean water, clean air and healthy living. We turned to the courts to force the EPA to set long overdue protections from this toxic menace. This decision marks the first step towards federally enforceable safeguards from coal ash. For decades, coal ash has been dumped into unlined and unmonitored pits, poisoning water supplies and the communities that rely on them. No one should have to live in fear of the coal ash dump in their back yard, and we hope the EPA will finally adopt regulations that protect all nearby communities.”

Posted Oct. 3, 2013

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