coal ash

EPA And TVA Nix Coal Ash Spill Cleanup Efforts

Four years after a coal processing plant operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) accidentally released tons of toxic coal ash into waterways in Kingston, the cleanup has finally come to an end. 

But just because cleanup efforts have ceased, that does not mean that the pollution problem is gone.

In fact, quite the opposite is true.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached a deal with the TVA to allow the company to stop their cleanup efforts and allow “natural river processes” to dispose of the remaining toxic sludge.

Coal Ash Sites Posing Increasing Dangers To Water Supplies, Public Health

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) has once again put together a fantastic report regarding water contamination near coal ash disposal sites.

Last year, the EIP released several reports showing that drinking water near coal ash disposal sites in states across America contained dangerous levels of heavy metals and other toxins, including arsenic. In total, last year’s report revealed 53 sites in the United States where coal ash had polluted drinking water supplies.

The new report has identified a total of 116 coal ash sites in America that are leaching deadly toxins into the environment.

The new EIP report resulted from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the EPA, which revealed that 49 different coal-fired power plants acknowledged that their own testing showed that groundwater pollution around their disposal sites far exceeded the federally acceptable levels. Among the chemicals reported to exceed federal standards at the coal-fired plants’ disposal sites are:
  

ALEC’s Vision of Pre-Empting EPA Coal Ash Regs Passes the House

Authored by Sara Jerving of PRWatch.org and ALECExposed.org. Cross-posted with permission from the Center for Media and Democracy. 

The U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment on April 18 to the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012 (HR 4348) that would effectively pre-empt the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating coal ash, the waste from coal burning plants, as a hazardous waste. About 140 million tons of coal ash are produced by power plants in the United States each year. There are about 1,000 active coal ash storage sites across the country.

According to the EPA, the ash contains concentrations of arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and other metals, but the coal industry has claimed there is less mercury in the ash than in a fluorescent light bulb. However, the EPA found in 2010 that the cancer risk from arsenic near some unlined coal ash ponds was one in 50 – 2,000 times the agency’s regulatory goal. Additionally, researchers from the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and Sierra Club have documented water contamination from coal ash sites in 186 locations. The new bill would strip the EPA’s authority to regulate the ash and hand it over to the states.  

The coal industry and its allies have been pushing several levers to stop the EPA from regulating coal ash, including passing resolutions through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Along with its coal ash provisions, the transportation bill, which is intended to extend highway and transit funding through September, includes measures that would advance the controversial trans-Canada Keystone XL pipeline.

Report: Arsenic From Coal Ash Disposal Sites Leaching Into Groundwater

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) has released a startling report showing that coal ash dumps near coal-burning power plants are leaching arsenic and other toxic chemicals into water supplies. The new report identifies 20 new sites in 10 different states where coal ash is contaminating water supplies. These sites are in addition to the 33 coal ash disposal sites that EIP identified earlier this year that are contaminating water supplies.

From an EIP release:

EIP has identified a total of 20 additional coal ash dump sites causing groundwater and soil contamination in 10 states – Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. These include 19 sites where coal ash appears to have contaminated groundwater with arsenic or other pollutants at levels above Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCL). All but two have also measured concentrations of other pollutants – such as boron, molybdenum, and manganese – above EPA-recommended Health Advisories for children or adults. In addition, our report includes new information about 7 previously recognized damage cases, including stunning evidence of groundwater more toxic than hazardous waste leachate.

After EPA documented 67 proven or potential ‘damage cases’ in 2007, we found groundwater or surface water contamination at 70 additional sites, and submitted our analysis to EPA in two reports released in February and August of 2010. The current report brings the total number of damage cases identified by EPA and other groups to 157.

New Lake Michigan Coal Ash Spill Raises Old Concerns

On Monday, a bluff surrounding a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based power plant collapsed, sending a cascade of debris and coal ash waste from the power plant into Lake Michigan. No injuries were reported by We Energies, the company who owns the power plant, but the environmental assessment will likely be less optimistic. We Energies, a subsidiary of Wisconsin Energy Corporation (NYSE: WEC), has confirmed that the debris that made it into the river likely contained coal ash.

As of Monday afternoon, a “fuel sheen” appeared on the surface of Lake Michigan as a result of the bluff collapse. Cleanup crews from Clean Harbor were contracted by We Energies to help contain the spread of the sheen, and will be deploying about 1,500 feet of boom to help contain the waste on the surface. Shortly after the accident, residents living up to a mile away from the site along the lake were already reporting debris washing onshore.

As we have reported extensively in the past, coal ash contains countless toxic substances, including mercury, hexavalent chromium, arsenic, and cadmium. It has also been reported to be more radioactive as nuclear waste. In spite of these findings, the EPA has yet to issue any firm stance on whether or not coal ash will be regulated as a “toxic waste,” partly due to the fact that the coal industry has unleashed a cadre of lobbyists to Washington to fight to protect their coal ash interests.

The EPA’s delay in issuing a ruling on coal ash has allowed the Republican-controlled Congress to gain the upper hand on the issue. In early fall 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would prohibit the EPA from regulating coal ash, and preventing them from classifying the substance as “hazardous.” Instead of EPA regulations, the bill would allow states to issue their own standards on coal ash and prevent any federal standards.

Make Money Having Fun, A Company That Makes Money Contaminating Water Supplies

An Oklahoma coal fly ash disposal company has found themselves in hot, contaminated water over their practice of using oil and gas wastewater brine in the disposal of fly ash. According to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the fly ash disposal firm called (no joke) Make Money Having Fun, LLC has been ordered to indefinitely suspend their practice of mixing oil wastewater with fly ash until they can resolve their numerous contamination problems.

And after years of trying to clean up their state, Oklahoma residents have been granted at least a temporary victory by the E.P.A. in their efforts to prevent Make Money Having Fun, LLC from continuing to poison their water supply. From the Tulsa World News:

The EPA issued a cease-and-desist order against Making Money Having Fun in April 2010 for violations of the federal Clean Water Act stemming from the discharge of pollutants into a tributary of Doe Creek.

Coal Ash Ponds Contaminating Groundwater In Tennessee

TVA Kingston Coal Ash Spill credit-Greenpeace

The Inspector General of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) released a new report showing that coal ash holding sites at several TVA-owned coal-fired power plants has managed to contaminate groundwater. The report says that chemical concentrations are so high in certain areas that they could pose a serious health risk to residents. Among the chemicals that the Inspector General’s report lists as being found in the water supply were arsenic, cadmium, beryllium, selenium, and vanadium.

While the chemicals found in the water supply show that there is a serious threat to local communities coming from the coal ash repositories, that isn’t the most disturbing part of the report. The real problem is that the TVA knew about the chemicals being leaked into the water supply for at least a decade, and did nothing. The report says that the TVA had found chemicals indicating coal ash leaks in areas in and around Memphis, as well as other sites across Tennessee.

GOP Coal Ash Bill May Be Hazardous To Your Health

The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted this week to allow a new bill on the regulation of coal ash to be considered for a full House vote. The bill, known as The Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, would prevent the E.P.A. from classifying coal ash (or fly ash) as a toxic substance, and instead would allow individual states to make their own rules regarding the storage and re-use of coal ash waste.

The bill passed the committee by a vote of 35 – 12, with all Committee Republicans and six Democrats voting in favor of the bill. The E.P.A. ruled in 2000 that coal ash was not a hazardous substance, but proposed a rule last summer that would change the classification to “hazardous.” The agency is still debating which rule will stand, and announced recently that the decision will not be made this year.

The bill was put forward by freshman Republican David McKinley from West Virginia. West Virginia is one of the country’s leading producers of both coal and coal waste. Under the guise of “saving jobs,” McKinley introduced the bill earlier this year. But a look beyond the surface reveals McKinley’s true intentions for putting forth the legislation.

During the course of his short career, McKinley has already received more than $205,000 from the mining industry, which includes donations from some of the largest coal companies in West Virginia – Alpha Natural Resources (a leading company in mountaintop removal mining,) International Coal Group, and Patriot Coal. The following chart is from OpenSecrets, showing McKinley’s top donors:

Coal Ash Disposal Sites Contaminating Ground Water In 19 States

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) has released a new report showing that coal ash disposal sites are threatening water supplies at 33 sites located in 19 different states across the U.S. The EIP says that the levels of heavy metals like arsenic in these locations are dangerously higher than federally accepted levels, which the group says could mean that legal action could be taken against the companies involved in the coal ash dumping.

From an EIP press release:

West Virginia Congressman Wants EPA To Stop Monitoring Toxic Waste

Republican Representative David McKinley from West Virginia has proposed a bill that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating toxic coal ash. The EPA has not yet made a decision on whether or not to classify coal ash as toxic, but reports show that the substance poses significant risks to human health.

McKinley is the sponsor of HR 1391, formally known as Recycling Coal Combustion Residuals Accessibility Act of 2011, a bill that would strip the EPA of their ability to exempt toxic coal ash from the EPA’s “Subtitle C” classification. Subtitle C lays out the guidelines that the agency follows in order to regulate toxic substances from “the cradle to the grave,” meaning that they provide oversight throughout the cycle of any form of hazardous waste. It also gives the agency the authority to conduct periodic inspections of plants producing hazardous wastes, as well as providing states and cities with training programs in how to manage these wastes.

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