The Environmental Protection Agency gave 45 ponds at 27 locations a "high hazard potential" rating, meaning that if they break or leak, it would likely result in loss of life. Environmental groups in the last month have sued operators of 14 power plants in North Carolina and four in Illinois over coal-ash contamination, and ash-contaminated water at 197 sites in 37 states, according to Earthjustice.
President Obama and Mitt Romney have touted their love of the coal industry, and the idea of coal ash as a hazardous waste creates controversy. Obama's EPA moved toward regulating more strictly, then backed off. If it is officially labeled hazardous, EPA will have direct control over it and new handling procedures on utilities will be implemented, something that would increase utilities' costs. The EPA and environmentalists say new regulations will encourage more utilities to recycle coal ash into concrete and other products, but recycling companies and mining industry officials say this will be less likely if it's labeled as hazardous. (Read more)