Waterkeepers Chesapeake Disappointed in EPA Regulations for the Disposal of Coal Ash

River at Risk map (James River)

Rule will not adequately protect water or communities. Fails to follow science and properly designate coal ash as hazardous waste.

Washington, DC — December 19, 2014 — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today has issued its first-ever national rule on the disposal of coal ash. Several local Waterkeepers and Waterkeeper Alliance have been working for years to secure federal rulemaking for this toxic substance, which is currently subject to less regulation than household garbage in most states. EPA’s rule still leaves critical gaps in the protection of human health and the environment by failing to classify coal ash as hazardous waste and leaving primary oversight of coal ash regulation to states who, for decades, have failed to prevent catastrophic coal ash leaks and spills that have contaminated rivers, drinking water sources and communities.

Along the James River, the Lower James and Upper James Riverkeepers have identified five major coal ash disposal sites with up to 5 billion gallons of coal ash as part of their River at Risk Campaign. Yesterday, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) filed a notice of intent to sue Dominion’s Chesapeake Energy Center for leaking coal ash pits along the Elizabeth River. In September, SELC representing Potomac Riverkeeper filed a notice of intent to sue Dominion’s Possum Point facility for leaking toxic coal ash from disposal sites that lack permits. After several years of legal wrangling, Potomac Riverkeeper and Patuxent Riverkeeper negotiated a consent decree with NRG Energy and the state for the clean up of three leaking coal ash sites in Maryland. These are just a few examples of the several ongoing and pervasive toxic coal ash pits that threaten the rivers in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Statement from Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director, Waterkeepers Chesapeake:

“Leaking toxic coal ash pits are not only found in North Carolina or Tennessee. Here in the Chesapeake Bay region, our local Waterkeepers have spent the last several years taking action to ensure the clean up of toxic coal ash sites. Unfortunately, they continue to identify new coal ash pits that are leaking toxins and heavy metals into our rivers. We are deeply disappointed that the EPA chose to ignore science and issued a weak and ineffective rule that will not safeguard our waterways and communities from this extremely hazardous waste.”

Statement from Sarah Rispin, Potomac Riverkeeper and General Counsel of Potomac Riverkeeper, Inc.:

“By regulating coal ash as non-hazardous waste, EPA is trying to sweep a very real, and very toxic problem, under the rug.  But calling coal ash ‘non-hazardous’ doesn’t make it so.  It is indisputable that coal ash contains dangerous heavy metals including arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury and thallium, and that these toxins contaminate the land and water around hundreds of coal ash dumps across the country—including over two dozen in the Potomac Watershed. We are saddened to see EPA cave to industry pressure and pretend that this toxic waste is ‘non-hazardous’ to avoid imposing the expense of proper disposal on an industry that has been getting away with negligent practices for years.”

Read Potomac Riverkeeper, Inc.’s full statement. Potomac Riverkeeper is working to evaluate this complex rule, and to determine what, if any, practical protections it adds for our region against the threat of leaks and collapse from the multiple coal ash storage sites in our watershed.

Statement by Bill Street, CEO of James River Association:

“Power companies in neighboring states have already committed to safely moving coal ash to dry, lined storage away from waterways.  America’s Founding River deserves that same level of protection.  We will be tracking the implementation of these rules in Virginia to ensure proper safeguards are established.”

Read James River Association’s full statement.

The following is a statement from Marc Yaggi, Executive Director of Waterkeeper Alliance:

“EPA’s historic failure to regulate coal ash has resulted in catastrophes that have buried homes in poisonous slurry and permanently harmed rivers and stream. How could EPA conclude that coal ash, which is loaded with carcinogens including arsenic, cadmium, and chromium, is not a hazardous waste? These toxins are contaminating the land and water around hundreds of coal ash dumps across the country. Today’s rule falls far short of what is needed to protect communities and ensure clean water for all Americans.

“EPA failed to follow the science and cravenly abandoned its duty to protect American families by capitulating to intense pressure from a powerful, polluting industry. This is yet another example of polluters profiting over people at the hands of the very agency who is supposed to regulate them.

“For the past three years, Waterkeeper Alliance has investigated dozens of coal ash dumps all over the United States. We’ve found toxic pollution leaking and spilling out of nearly every ash dump we’ve looked at. EPA’s new rule will allow hazardous pollution to leak into the environment for decades to come.”

Read Waterkeeper Alliance’s full statement.Waterkeeper Alliance is extensively reviewing the new rule and will provide additional comment early next week.

Contact: Robin Broder, robin(at)waterkeeperschesapeake.org, 703-786-8172