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"When agency officials finally acted, they chose the minimalist approach, setting baseline national standards for coal-ash disposal at more than 1,400 sites nationwide while leaving regulation essentially up to the states," Lombardi writes. "Under the coal ash rule, the agency has no authority to enforce its own requirements. At the same time, EPA officials determined that so-called beneficial uses, like the recycling that fills the pit here, could continue."
In Bokoshe, residents began complaining to state regulators in 1998 about dust from the coal-ash pit eight miles outside town, Lombardi writes. "More than a decade later, EPA got involved and in 2014 finally acknowledged that the pit has shown 'evidence' of escaping coal ash dust. But the grime that coats the town has not gone." Some residents "filed a class-action lawsuit against the pit operator and others, only to see the case dismissed."
Lombardi writes, "The situation in Bokoshe exposes the weakness in the EPA’s coal ash rule, the fallacy that dumping can continue under the guise of beneficial use. To encourage recycling of coal ash, the agency exempts from federal oversight any disposal method that meets this definition. And this gives carte blanche to sites like the Making Money pit, an old coal mine where disposal of coal ash is considered a beneficial use by the state."
"For the purposes of coal ash recycling, there are two types of beneficial use: encapsulated, in which, for example, the ash becomes part of concrete or wallboard; and unencapsulated, in which loose material is reused as fill for road construction or dumped in active and abandoned coal mines, a practice known as minefilling," Lombardi reports. "The most common reuse method, minefilling remains unregulated at the federal level because of a loophole in the EPA’s coal-ash rule. The EPA handed off regulation of the practice to the Interior Department, which has yet to act. The deferral was partly the product of vigorous lobbying by the utility industry over many years." (Read more)