Groups sue Environmental Protection Agency over coal ash

Aug 25, 2022, 8:58 AM | Updated: 12:11 pm

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A coalition of environmental groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday over its refusal to regulate some older coal ash dumps, claiming they are polluting air and groundwater.

A lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington D.C. seeks to compel the agency to review and revise regulations it says are “inadequate to protect human health and the environment” from the solid waste produced by coal-burning power plants.

The EPA first began regulating coal ash disposal in 2015, prompted by the 2008 collapse of a six-story earthen dam outside a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant in Kingston, Tennessee. The disaster released more than a billion gallons of coal ash sludge onto 300 surrounding acres (about 121 hectares), knocking homes off their foundations and fouling the Emory River.

When EPA was crafting its coal ash regulations, many of those concerned about the possible health effects of the ash hoped the agency would declare it to be hazardous waste. That didn’t happen, but EPA did create special rules for its disposal. They included location restrictions, liner requirements to prevent groundwater contamination and groundwater monitoring to detect leaks.

Not all coal ash disposal sites were included in the new regulations, however. EPA specifically exempted landfills that stopped receiving new waste before the rule went into effect. Since then, many of the regulated landfills that require groundwater monitoring have subsequently reported unsafe levels of arsenic and other chemicals in nearby groundwater. The lawsuit posits that older, unregulated landfills must also be polluting and should be regulated.

In addition, the contamination from the older landfills could be masking problems at newer landfills that are often on the same property, the lawsuit states. That’s because the operators of the regulated landfills don’t have to address groundwater contamination if they can show that it is coming from another source.

EPA did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday morning.

The lawsuit spotlights Bull Run power plant in Clinton, Tennessee, which is also run by TVA, the nation’s largest public utility.

The site contains three separate but adjacent coal ash landfills. One closed in 1992. The second closed in 2015 — just before the EPA regulations took effect. The third opened in 2015 and is an active landfill. Even though the groundwater at the new landfill shows significantly high levels of boron, sulfate and other chemicals, TVA does not have to take action because an engineering report attributes the contamination to “pre-existing groundwater conditions.”

One of the plaintiff groups is Tennessee-based Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment. Member Todd Waterman said in a telephone interview that he has seen friends who helped clean up the Kingston coal ash spill sicken and die. Now he is worried about what the ash at the Bull Run plant could be doing to his drinking water.

“I’m deeply concerned for my community,” he said in a phone interview about the plant scheduled to shut down next year. “I don’t want TVA to just walk away from that plant and leave all that contamination in place.”

TVA would not respond directly to the lawsuit but said in an email that it has a “steadfast commitment to protecting the environment.”

Other plaintiffs include the Hoosier Environmental Council in Indiana, the Indiana State Conference and the LaPorte County Branch of the NAACP, Clean Power Lake County in Illinois, and several national groups including the Sierra Club and Earthjustice, which filed the suit.

The EPA is required to review and, if necessary revise, regulations like those for coal ash disposal every three years, something it has failed to do, according to the lawsuit. Plaintiffs are asking the judge to order a review of the regulations, especially the exemption for older coal ash landfills. They estimate there are close to 300 landfills exempt from regulation in 38 states.

“Regulations addressing these landfills would prevent exposure to deadly coal ash constituents, protect drinking water sources and aquatic ecosystems, and lead to much needed cleanups nationwide,” the lawsuit states.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer speaks inside the Recorders Office, Nov. 9, 2022, in...
Associated Press

Dominion conspiracies highlighted by Fox lawsuit have election officials concerned for safety

Maricopa County officials are bracing for what could happen when it comes time to replace its contract for voting equipment.
1 day ago
A building is damaged and trees are down after severe storm swept through Little Rock, Ark., Friday...
Associated Press

Tornado causes widespread damage to buildings, vehicles in Little Rock

A tornado raced through Little Rock and surrounding areas Friday, splintering homes, overturning vehicles and tossing trees.
1 day ago
FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks with reporters while in flight on his plane after a cam...
Associated Press

Worries grow that Trump indictment could undermine public confidence in other investigations

Trump’s attempts to overturn those results amid false claims of widespread fraud are at the heart of two other ongoing investigations.
1 day ago
(Facebook Photo/Superior Court of Arizona in Yavapai County)...
Associated Press

Arizona judge has cases reassigned following DUI arrest

The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that all cases currently assigned to a Yavapai County Superior Court judge recently arrested on suspicion of extreme DUI will be reassigned to other judges.
5 days ago
Haitian migrant Gerson Solay, 28, carries his daughter, Bianca, as he and his family cross into Can...
Associated Press

US, Canada to end loophole that allows asylum-seekers to move between countries

President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday announced a plan to close a loophole to an immigration agreement.
8 days ago
Expert skateboarder Di'Orr Greenwood, an artist born and raised in the Navajo Nation in Arizona and...
Associated Press

Indigenous skateboard art featured on new stamps unveiled at Phoenix skate park

The Postal Service unveiled the “Art of the Skateboard" stamps at a Phoenix skate park, featuring designs from Indigenous artists.
8 days ago

Sponsored Articles

(Photo by Michael Matthey/picture alliance via Getty Images)...
Cox Communications

Valley Boys & Girls Club uses esports to help kids make healthy choices

KTAR’s Community Spotlight focuses on the Boys & Girls Club of the Valley and the work to incorporate esports into children's lives.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
Fiesta Bowl Foundation

Celebrate 50 years of Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade magic!

Since its first production in the early 1970s, the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe has been a staple of Valley traditions, bringing family fun and excitement to downtown Phoenix.
Groups sue Environmental Protection Agency over coal ash