New Coal Ash Rules Deserve Your Attention

A critical decision about the classification of coal ash is due this month. It’s been over four years since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced their plans to finalize federal rules regarding coal ash, but come December 19th, the EPA might finally make good on their promise.

Most people, aside from industry representatives and environmentalists, don’t have this issue on their radar. It’s not hard to make sense of – after all, coal regulations don’t exactly make for sexy headlines. But the classification of coal ash could have serious environmental implications for all of us.

Coal ash is, as you might guess, a byproduct of burning coal for energy. It is currently disposed of in either surface impoundments or landfills. Both of these disposal solutions have their own unique set of problems and challenges, as well as notable historic contamination incidents.

When Duke Energy’s unlined coal ash pond in North Virginia ended up releasing millions of gallons of toxic waste into the Dan River in February, the tragic consequences of unlined surface impoundments got a lot of attention. But this wasn’t the first issue of its kind.

coal ash surface impoundment

According to Earth Justice’s report, ‘State of Failure: How States Fail to Protect Our Health and Drinking Water From Toxic Coal Ash,’ author Lisa Evans claims that “most states do not require all coal ash landfills and ponds to employ the most basic safeguards required at household trash landfills, such as composite liners, groundwater monitoring, leachate collection systems, dust controls and financial assurance; nor do states require that coal ash ponds be operated to avoid catastrophic collapse.”

This is especially alarming when you consider the overwhelming amount of coal ash generated each year; coal ash generation is so prolific that it is estimated to be the second largest industrial waste stream in the United States. One would hope that a waste type both so common and so incredibly toxic would be more strictly controlled than household waste (and certainly not less).

And we might finally see that happen. The EPA has proposed two different regulation options. The first option (otherwise known as “subtitle C”) would classify coal ash as hazardous waste moving forward, and the second option (otherwise known as “subtitle D”) would classify coal ash as a solid waste.

Thankfully, both options would affect the usage of surface impoundments (and ultimately, the likelihood of future disasters). The subtitle C option would result in eventual discontinuation, whereas the subtitle D option would require generators to line coal ash ponds. Both options will also deal with design standards for new landfills.

With so many disasters already on record, and the looming promise of more to come, it’s clear that either option is preferable to the rules in place currently (or lack thereof). The world might not be watching on December 19th, but we certainly will be.


Environmental Remediation Experts can assist you with coal ash remediation. To request a quote for services, simply call us at 888-681-8923 or click here to email us.

Photo Credit: Waterkeeper Alliance Inc.