The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a strengthened rule to regulate and clean up toxic waste from coal-fired power plants on Wednesday, cited as a crucial move to safeguarding communities’ air, groundwater, streams, and drinking water. The proposed rule would hold polluters accountable for controlling and cleaning up coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal that can negatively impact water quality and the air. Coal ash could contain contaminants like mercury, chromium, and arsenic, which have been connected to cancer and numerous health issues. The EPA’s proposal targets unregulated dumping areas at the federal level for supervision and management.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, and other interest groups had challenged the 2015 EPA rule on coal ash, which they said was insufficient in regulating a substantial portion of coal ash pollution in the US. Following the lawsuit, the proposed rule will extend the federal coal ash standards to most coal ash disposed of in power plants and extend federal monitoring, closure, and clean-up requirements to hundreds of outdated landfills and dump sites. The new rules will help safeguard underserved and minority communities that have been disproportionately exposed to pollution.
The EPA administrator, Michael Regan, stated that the proposed rule exemplifies the agency’s urgency in ensuring the safety and health of all people. Placing polluters accountable would be able to aid environmental justice, according to the Biden administration, which has attempted to protect minorities and low-income communities who are generally the worst affected. Almost all coal-fired power plants create coal ash, which is disposed of in fleets of often-unsanctioned sites nearby.
The EPA addressed wastewater from coal-burning plants and reduced mercury and other harmful pollutants from coal-fired power plants via recent proposals. The latest proposed rule will go hand-in-hand with the EPA’s proposal to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants, which is the administration’s most ambitious effort to curb planet-warming pollution from the country’s second-largest climate change contributor.
Coal ash disposal and storage have been practised for decades and have continued to stay largely unregulated until the 2008 spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s power plant in Kingston. It was an accident when a dike failed, causing waste to be dumped into nearby rivers, flooding more than 300 acres and destroying homes and habitats. Another incident occurred in 2014 when a Duke Energy plant in Eden, North Carolina, collapsed a drainage pipe, resulting in approximately 39,000 tons of coal ash spilling into the Dan River.