Coal ash, also known as coal combustion waste, is the byproduct of coal-burning plants. It is oftentimes stored with water in impoundments or dry in landfills.
The Southeast is home to nearly 450 coal ash impoundments with a capacity to hold over 118 billion gallons of coal ash. That’s the equivalent of 306,000 football fields filled with a foot-thick layer of sludge.
Coal ash contains a host of heavy metals including but not limited to arsenic, selenium, chromium, boron and cadmium.
In December of 2008, a dam at a TVA coal plant in Harriman, Tennessee broke, unleashing over a billion gallons of coal ash into the Emory River. This catastrophe, which damaged over 300 acres, served as a national wake-up call about the dangers of this toxic waste. After the disaster, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency committed to crafting, releasing and implementing a rule to manage the storage and disposal of coal ash in order to protect the public from another dam failure as well as water contamination.
The EPA originally proposed two possible regulatory programs under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which deals with waste. One proposal would regulate coal ash under Subtitle C, the hazardous waste section; the other proposal under Subtitle D, which would govern coal ash under the same rules similar to household waste.
EPA has yet to release a final rule. At the same time, there is movement in Congress to take away EPA’s authority to ever issue final rules on coal ash. H.R. 2273, a bill in the House passed in October of 2011 and similar version of the bill, S.3512, is now being considered in the Senate.
Fortunately, citizens are coming together to fight for protection of their waterways and public safety.