Saturday, June 13, 2009

Feds withhold list of 'high hazard' coal-ash ponds, say individual communities should be warned

Is there a coal-fired power plant near you? Does it put its ash in a disposal pond? Is that pond one of the 44 identified as "high hazard" by the Environmental Protection Agency? Is your community one of the 26 near those ponds? Answering the last two questions may be difficult, because the Obama administration has declined to release the list, citing Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Homeland Security fears about terrorist attacks on the ponds. But local news media may be in a better position than national media to get answers.

Senators and representatives said yesterday that the administration should release the list. "If these sites are so hazardous and if the neighborhoods nearby could be harmed irreparably, then I believe it is essential to let people know," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. An unidentified EPA official told Dina Cappiello of The Associated Press that the agency intended to release the list until it for a June 4 letter from the Corps and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Army Corps "did not recommend secrecy, but advocated the information be made public judiciously in each community where the coal-ash piles are located," reports Jim Bruggers of the Louisville Courier-Journal, quoting Corps spokesman Gene Pawlik: "We don't release a consolidated list of information ... as a single document." Bruggers adds: "Instead, he said, the Corps recommends making the information available to emergency responders and local officials, and the public through community meetings." Eric Halpin, special assistant for dam and levee safety for the Corps, told AP that federal policy says "you shouldn't make it easy for the bad guys to do their jobs" by releasing lists.

"A Homeland Security Department spokeswoman said late Friday that the Corps position was not the final word on the matter and could be reversed. A final recommendation will be made by the FEMA administrator after a review by the National Dam Safety Review Board," Cappiello reports. "The sites have existed for years with little or no federal regulation. And oversight at the state level varies, with some treating coal ash ponds like dams used for power generation and flood control and others not regulating their construction or siting at all." (Read more) For example, Indiana officials declined to tell The Courier-Journal if any sites in that state are on the list, but Kentucky has its own rating system that "considers ash ponds at four power plants to be high hazard, meaning they could cause death or serious damage if they fail," Bruggers writes.

Is the administration really following a strategy of releasing the information to individual communities? Seems to us that local news media should find out, by asking EPA headquarters or regional offices if their communities are among the 26 at risk.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

THE 26 communities, or the 26 communities near the 44 high hazard ponds identified SO FAR? With some 600 or so wet ash storage ponds around the country it seems likely there will be more than 26 communities once the ink dries on findings for all of them.