Since the 2008 Kingston, Tenn., coal ash spill, the toxic waste has been hotly debated in the media, Congress and the courts.
On April 11, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Environment and Economy held a hearing in part to promote the Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act of 2013, drafted legislation that would prevent the EPA from implementing federal regulation of coal ash, leaving regulation up to the states.
Some witnesses, including the former director of the Mine Safety and Health Academy, Jack Spadaro, and Lisa Evans, an attorney for Earthjustice focused on hazardous waste, testified against the draft, which is modeled on past legislation that failed and was called “unprecedented” in environmental law by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
“Without a doubt, when mismanaged, coal ash harms Americans nationwide by poisoning water and air and by threatening the very existence of communities living near high hazard dams,” Evans said at the hearing. “We must work together to establish regulations that foremost prevent injury to health and ensure the safety of all communities.”
Spadaro, who has been involved in the evaluation and regulation of coal waste dams since 1972 and wrote federal and state regulations governing the structural integrity of dams in the wake of the Buffalo Creek Flood, cautioned subcommittee members against moving ahead with the draft. According to Spadaro, the proposed legislation lacks the adequate engineering requirements and enforcement by a federal agency necessary to prevent another spill similar to the TVA disaster that would lead to irreversible environmental damage and possible loss of life.
“There are thousands of such structures in the United States at this time,” Spadaro said, “and the failure of one or more of these dams is assured unless strict engineering standards are imposed.” The Southeast is home to 40 percent of the nation’s coal ash impoundments, and according to the EPA, contains 21 of the nation’s 45 high hazard dams.