Proposed coal ash rollbacks put communities in danger

New coal ash rollbacks would drastically alter and relax the way toxic ash is handled on construction sites and beyond.

Next week, the Environmental Protection Agency will hold its first-ever virtual public hearing for folks to weigh in on some of the agency’s proposed coal ash rollbacks, which will remove critical requirements currently in place to keep people safe.

The deadline to register for the October 10 hearing is October 7, and here’s what’s at stake.

Coal ash is one of the nation’s largest industrial waste products, and the Trump administration has granted the industry’s request to escape accountability with a new proposal. Dubbed “Phase 2,” the proposal eviscerates essential protections for two dangerous ways of disposing of coal ash, as established in the 2015 Coal Ash Rule: the creating of mountainous, uncontained piles of toxic waste and the use of coal ash as fill in construction projects.

“The proposal exempts most projects involving the placement of toxic coal ash on any land from any regulation whatsoever,” says Senior Attorney Frank Holleman. In most cases, regardless of how much ash is dumped, there are no requirements to provide notice to communities, to test the ash for heavy metals, to determine radioactivity or leaching potential, to control hazardous fugitive dust, or to prevent toxins from leaking into groundwater.

Four years ago, EPA confirmed that large coal ash fill projects cause the same damage to health and the environment as unlined coal ash landfills. The use of ash as a substitute for clean fill in construction projects has created multiple Superfund sites, including the Battlefield Golf Course in Chesapeake, Virginia, where developers used a million tons of ash to sculpt the course, and neighbors have been inundated with toxic dust and arsenic-polluted groundwater.

The proposal exempts most projects involving the placement of toxic coal ash on any land from any regulation whatsoever.”

—Senior Attorney Frank Holleman

EPA’s proposal is exceedingly dangerous because the proposed rule:
  • Permits use of unlimited volumes of toxic coal ash in projects where ash is placed on land, with no safeguards such as liners to prevent leaking, monitoring to detect water contamination, or controls of toxic dust that blows from project sites
  • Requires only a small minority of reuse sites (at just six specific types of locations) to complete an environmental demonstration that shows contamination will not occur
  • Is likely to greatly increase the use of toxic ash in land placement projects because coal ash is much cheaper than clean fill
The proposal also allows unlined toxic coal ash waste piles to escape these critical protective safeguards:
  • Coal ash waste piles are no longer subject to landfill requirements if the owner claims that the ash pile is “temporary” and will be removed at some future date—even hundreds of years from the creation of the waste pile.
  • Consequently, the owner does not have to lift a finger to inspect the pile, monitor groundwater, execute a dust control plan, or clean up contaminated groundwater.
  • New coal ash waste piles, if claimed to be “temporary” storage piles, are not subject to liner and siting restrictions or any other specific enforceable pollution control requirements.
  • There is no limit on the height or volume of a “temporary” coal ash storage pile, and no requirements to cover the pile, to take specific measures to prevent toxic dust, to respond to citizen complaints, to address spills or slope failures, to notify the public of water contamination, or to notify the public that the waste pile even exists.
To read a full fact sheet prepared by SELC and its partners, click here.
For more information on the virtual hearing, click here, and click here to register to comment by October 7.

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