Coal-Ash Disposal Remains A Front-Burner Issue at EPA
Most of the 580-plus coal-ash impoundments and landfills in the
Since last December's major coal ash spill near
- On Oct. 30, the US Government Accountability Office released "Coal Combustion Residue: Status of EPA's Efforts to Regulate Disposal." GAO public affairs: Chuck Young, 202-512-4800.
Among GAO's major findings:
- EPA is analyzing the structural hazards and environmental risks associated with surface impoundments. EPA identified 49 coal ash surface impoundments with "high hazard" potential rating (referring to the potential for damage/deaths if they fail, not to their current condition or likelihood of failure). So far, EPA has surveyed 38 of these facilities. On Sept. 14 EPA released reports on the first 22 of these.
- EPA doesn't know exactly how many surface impoundments and landfills exist at utility coal fired power plants. However, they're busily counting and mapping them — over 580 as of
Sept. 14, 2009.
- EPA does not directly regulate the structural integrity of coal ash disposal in surface impoundments or landfills. States have a variety of regulatory controls on surface impoundments. EPA is expected to propose new rules in December 2009, but state-federal power struggles will likely complicate this issue.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 2, EPA's Office of Inspector General reported that they found "no evidence of criminal activity or improper actions involving a cover-up in the risk assessment process for coal ash rulemaking," and "no evidence of any undue outside influence affecting the rulemaking process." EPA OIG: 202-566-2391.
This investigation was prompted in August 2009 by allegations raised in a 60 Minutes interview. That 60 Minutes segment, "Coal Ash: 130 Million Tons of Waste," aired