Monday, March 09, 2009

Regulations on coal ash coming this year

The Obama administration plans to have regulations aimed at controlling waste produced in coal combustion in place by the end of the year. In the short term it will ask 163 utilities that manage 300 ash ponds. "to list any spills or unauthorized releases from the ponds in the last decade, as well as information about their design, engineering and inspections," reports Shaila Dewan of The New York Times. The questionniare will be followed by onsite inspections where officials can demand improvements be made to prevent spills.

While environmental groups are encouraged, Dewan points out that several important questions are not being asked. "The questionnaire, aimed at above-ground ponds, does not ask about several key aspects of ash dumps, including whether they are lined to prevent leaking, have systems to collect water that could contain metals leached from the ash, or include groundwater monitors."

The Environmental Protection Agency has not decided whether to consider to regulate the waste as hazardous or nonhazardous, even though it has "developed improved tests that show more toxins leaching from the ash into groundwater than previously thought," writes Dewan, reporting that improvements in pollution controls that prevent many toxins from being pumped into the air mean that the waste from burning coal has become more toxic. Coal and utility interests have long opposed the regulation of coal ash, saying it would cost them billions of dollars a year to comply. (Read more)

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