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Wednesday, May 5, 2010 - 11:47am

EPA To Regulate Coal Ash

Updated: 4 years ago.
The 2008 spill in Kingston, Tennessee prompted the EPA to regulate coal ash. (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing its first-ever rules on disposing of ash from coal-fired power plants. The move comes after a massive spill from a coal ash pond in Tennessee a year and a half ago.

Power companies and environmentalists disagree on plans now open for public comment.

Coal ash is a power-generating byproduct that contains cancer causing toxins like mercury and arsenic.

The EPA says without proper protections it can leech into ground water and into drinking water.

Right now, coal ash is either dumped in landfills or it sits in ponds near power plants. The EPA is proposing the ponds and landfills be lined and nearby groundwater monitored.

Groups disagree on how to classify the substance… hazardous or non-hazardous.

Georgia Power has 10 unlined coal ash ponds in the state.

Spokesperson Jeff Wilson says the company wants the non-hazardous designation.

"We feel it should not be classified as a hazardous waste," says Wilson, "and if it is, that dramatically changes how you have to handle it, how you have to dispose of it and you can see increased costs from that."

But Steven Smith with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says the stricter rule is needed.

"We’re seeing we need more regulation of utilities," says Smith, "or they will find ways to cut corners and take short cuts that lead to potential devastating environmental impact."

Under the hazardous label, the state and federal government would be in charge of enforcement rather than citizens through lawsuits, and companies would be required to phase out the use of existing pools.