According to multiple sources, a number of environmental groups have announced plans to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over standards for the treatment of coal ash. The lawsuit will be filed under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or RCRA.
Coal ash, a natural byproduct of the combustion process for coal-fired power plants, today is typically stored onsite at power plants or sold on the open market for use in the production of concrete and other materials. In 2010, EPA proposed a pair of regulatory approaches for dealing with coal ash, one under RCRA Subtitle D that states could adopt at their discretion and another under the hazardous waste Subtitle C that would place coal ash under a federally enforceable permitting program.
“The type of lawsuit has become pattern in practice for environmental groups whose real goal is to shut down fossil power in the United States,” explains PACE Executive Director Lance Brown. “The most stringent coal ash proposals could endanger the very viability of half the nation’s power production capacity. The EPA, seemingly unconcerned with reliability or cost issues, welcomes such lawsuits.”
Groups reported to have announced their plans to file suit are Earthjustice, on behalf of Appalachian Voices; Chesapeake Climate Action Network; Environmental Integrity Project; French Broad Riverkeeper; Kentuckians For The Commonwealth; Moapa band of Paiutes; Montana Environmental Information Center; Physicians for Social Responsibility; Prairie Rivers Network; Sierra Club and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
PACE has written extensively about coal ash regulation, citing a study published in June 2011 that found EPA’s regulatory proposals on coal ash could cause as many as 316,000 job losses and cost $110 billion over a 20-year period. A documentary released last year by PACE, entitled Unplugged, also deals with the coal ash issue, citing officials with TVA and elsewhere who fear that classification of coal ash as a hazardous waste would severely restrict options for coal ash storage, causing either the retirement of some coal-fired facilities altogether or a drastically higher cost for burning coal for electricity.
“The public needs to understand that half of the 130 million tons of coal ash being generated each year ends up in places like our roads and our carpet. The rest is being stored under close supervision,” says Brown. “There is a way to handle coal ash that protects the public while not taking half of America’s power generation off the grid. Let’s hope the courts and policymakers have the wisdom to acknowledge that fact.”