EPA letting some hazardous coal ash ponds stay open longer

EPA letting some hazardous coal ash ponds stay open longer

SOURCE: AP DATE: October 16, 2020 SNIP: The Trump administration will let some leaking or otherwise dangerous coal ash storage ponds stay in operation for years more and some unlined ponds stay open indefinitely under a rule change announced Friday. The move by the Environmental Protection Agency is the administration’s latest rollback of environmental and public health regulations governing operators of coal-fired power plants, which are taking hits financially as cheaper natural gas, solar and wind power make dirtier-burning coal plants less competitive. Friday’s move weakens an Obama-era rule in which the EPA regulated the storage and disposal of toxic coal ash for the first time, including closing coal-ash dumping ponds that were unstable or contaminating groundwater. Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal for power and contains arsenic, mercury, lead and other hazardous heavy metals. U.S. coal plants produce about 100 million tons (90 million metric tonnes) annually of ash and other waste. Data released by utilities in March 2018, after the Obama administration required groundwater monitoring around coal ash storage sites, showed widespread evidence of contamination at coal plants from Virginia to Alaska. For decades, utilities largely disposed of coal ash by sluicing it into huge open pits. In 2008, the six-story-tall dike on a massive coal ash pond at a Tennessee plant collapsed, releasing more than a billion gallons of coal ash into the Swan Pond community. It remains the largest industrial spill in modern U.S. history and prompted the 2015 regulations that were intended to increase oversight of the industry. But the change in administrations brought a change in priorities, with President Donald Trump...
E.P.A. to Roll Back Rules to Control Toxic Ash from Coal Plants

E.P.A. to Roll Back Rules to Control Toxic Ash from Coal Plants

SOURCE: New York Times DATE: October 31, 2019 SNIP: The Trump administration is expected to roll back an Obama-era regulation meant to limit the leaching of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury into water supplies from the ash of coal-fired power plants, according to two people familiar with the plans. With a series of new rules expected in the coming days, the Environmental Protection Agency will move to weaken the 2015 regulation that would have strengthened inspection and monitoring at coal plants, lowered acceptable levels of toxic effluent and required plants to install new technology to protect water supplies from contaminated coal ash. The E.P.A. will relax some of those requirements and exempt a significant number of power plants from any of the requirements, according to the two people familiar with the Trump administration plan, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the new rules. The move is part of a series of deregulatory efforts by the Trump administration aimed at extending the lives of old, coal-fired power plants that have been shutting down in the face of competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable energy generators. Coal ash, the residue produced from burning coal, was dumped for years in holding areas near power plants, largely without regulation, but it came to the public’s attention after spills in North Carolina and Tennessee sent mercury, cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals from the ash into water supplies. Environmental groups warned that the regulatory rollback could lead to contaminated drinking water and birth defects, cancer and stunted brain development in young children. Energy analysts said the...
The toxic waste threat that climate change is making worse

The toxic waste threat that climate change is making worse

SOURCE: Politico DATE: August 26, 2019 SNIP: More than 100 storage sites for coal-burning power plants’ toxic leftovers lie in areas that federal emergency managers have labeled a high risk for flooding, according to POLITICO’s examination of government and industry data. That finding comes as scientists and pollution experts warn that coal ash — a multibillion-dollar liability problem for communities across the country — may become an even greater danger because of heavier rains triggered by climate change. Already, federal agencies warn that the government’s flood maps most likely understate the risks of deluges in much of the country, including the Southeast, where at least 42 storage sites in POLITICO’s analysis are located. The ash, left behind when coal is burned for power generation, contains arsenic, selenium, lead, mercury, boron and other contaminants known to cause cancer, neurological damage or heart ailments. Electric utilities usually store it in massive landfills or unlined ponds that are at a risk of spilling when nearby lakes and rivers flood — as happened in a $1.2 billion disaster that damaged dozens of homes in Tennessee in 2008, as well as two breaches that fouled a river and lake in North Carolina last year after Hurricane...
“Off the charts” arsenic levels detected in Western Pennsylvania groundwater

“Off the charts” arsenic levels detected in Western Pennsylvania groundwater

SOURCE: The Daily Climate DATE: March 6, 2019 SNIP: New data shows arsenic at levels 372 times greater than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s threshold for safety in groundwater an hour northwest of Pittsburgh. The cancer-causing pollutant is leaching from a former coal ash landfill at the New Castle Generating Station, according to a new report. Of the 265 power plants throughout the U.S. that are investigated in the report, New Castle Generating Station ranked number five of the 10 most contaminated sites. The study, conducted by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, used industry-reported data from more than 4,600 groundwater monitoring wells located around the ash dumps of 265 coal-fired power plants, or roughly three quarters of all coal plants in the country. Of those sites, 91 percent were contaminated with unsafe levels of toxic contaminants like the ones found at the New Castle site. The researchers discovered arsenic levels of 3,724 micrograms per liter in groundwater at the New Castle Generating Station site—enough to cause cancer in one out of six people exposed to that level of the pollutant. The EPA’s maximum contaminant level used under the Safe Drinking Water Act is 10 micrograms per liter. Exposure to arsenic can cause leukemia and lymphoma, cancer of the skin, stomach, and kidneys, and result in lower IQs in children. Public drinking water must be tested to ensure it contains fewer than 10 micrograms per liter, but testing is not required for private wells. These levels of arsenic in the groundwater could mean the contaminant is making its way into private wells, rivers, and streams in the region. The...
Most US coal plants are contaminating groundwater with toxins

Most US coal plants are contaminating groundwater with toxins

SOURCE: Inside Climate News and The Guardian DATE: March 4, 2019 SNIP: Almost every coal-fired power plant in the US is contaminating groundwater with unsafe levels of toxic pollution, according to the first comprehensive analysis of the consequences of coal ash waste disposal. Of the 265 US power plants that monitor groundwater, 242 have reported unsafe levels of at least one pollutant derived from coal ash, which is the remnants of coal after it is burned for energy. More than half such facilities report unsafe levels of arsenic, a carcinogen linked to multiple types of cancer, with 60% finding elevated lithium, which is associated with neurological damage. In all, nine out of every 10 coal plants with reportable data have tainted nearby groundwater with at least one coal ash pollutant, with a majority having unsafe levels of at least four different toxins. “The pollution is basically everywhere you look,” said Abel Russ, attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), which compiled the analysis based on reports issued by individual power plants. American coal plants produce about 100m tons of coal ash each year, with at least 2bn tons stored in pits of varying quality. Most coal ash pits are ageing and not lined with a protective substance that would prevent the ash seeping into streams and rivers. A stew of pollutants emanate from coal ash, including cadmium, cobalt, chromium and lead, as well as arsenic and lithium. These toxins are linked to a range of health conditions, including cancers, kidney damage and developmental...