Thursday, February 08, 2018

Coal-ash pits post threats to groundwater; states say order in Tenn. case to clean up coal ash violates their rights

Toxic waste such as arsenic may be leaking from unlined pits and contaminating groundwater at hundreds of coal-ash storage facilities around the country, says an analysis by environmental law organization Earthjustice. Electric utilities have until March 2 to publish their initial groundwater monitoring results.

"The analysis, an initial review of recently released data from 14 power plants in eight states, comes as the Environmental Protection Agency is weighing whether to revise recently enacted groundwater monitoring rules at coal ash storage facilities," Phil McKenna reports for Inside Climate News. "Nine of the 14 power plants noted 'statistically significant increases"'of toxic substances in groundwater near coal ash containment ponds, Earthjustice found."

James Roewer, executive director of the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, a trade association representing more than 100 power companies, said drinking water wasn't necessarily polluted by the waste, and said that utilities finding elevated levels of contaminants will conduct extra monitoring as required by a 2015 rule. In May 2017 USWAG petitioned EPA to weaken the monitoring and remediation requirements, saying they were too burdensome, inflexible and often impractical. EPA said it would reconsider some of the provisions.

Meanwhile, 15 states filed an amicus brief arguing that a federal judge's order to excavate a coal-ash pond in Tennessee "'usurps  states' authority to regulate groundwaters,' and will place a financial burden on the Tennessee Valley Authority that could cause rate increases to its customers," Dennis Pillion reports for

The case centers on an unlined coal ash pond in Gallatin, Tenn. TVA had planned a cover-in-place strategy, but after a citizen lawsuit under the Clean Water Act, a judge ruled that Gallatin's unlined ponds didn't meet the requirements of the CWA, since pollution from the pond was reaching groundwater and the Cumberland River. The TVA argued that it would be time-consuming and expensive to dig out the coal ash and relocate it to a lined landfill as ordered.

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