Posted by: Lawyer Sanders | March 10, 2009

Environmental lawyer Sanders says EPA announces new plan to review structural integrity of coal ash ponds at coal-fired electric utility plants nationwide.

Responding to last December’s massive coal ash spill at a Tennessee Valley Authority facility in Kingston, Tennessee, the U.S. EPA announced its new efforts to prevent future threats to human health and the environment.  EPA’s plan includes measures to gather critical coal ash impoundment information from electrical utilities nationwide, conduct on-site assessments to determine structural integrity and vulnerabilities, order cleanup and repairs where needed, and develop new regulations for future safety.

The December 2008 release of coal ash from TVA’s Kingston, Tennessee facility flooded more than 300 acres of land, damaging homes and property. Coal ash from the release flowed into the Emory and Clinch rivers, filling large areas of the rivers and killing fish. TVA cost estimates for the clean-up range between $525 million and $825 million, which does not include long-term cleanup costs.

In letters today, EPA requested that electric utilities that have surface impoundments or similar units provide information about the structural integrity of their units. EPA estimates there may be as many as 300 such units. These information requests are legally enforceable and must be responded to fully.

Working closely with other federal agencies and the states, EPA will review information provided by the facilities to identify impoundments or similar units that need priority attention. EPA also will visit many of these facilities to see if the management units are structurally sound.

The agency will require appropriate remedial action at any facility that is found to pose a risk for potential failure.  The assessment and analysis of all such units located at electric utilities in the U.S. will be compiled in a report and made available to the public.

EPA is also moving forward quickly to develop regulations to address the management of coal combustion residuals. EPA anticipates having a proposed rule ready for public comment by the end of the year.  More information on EPA’s letter to electric utilities: http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/industrial/special/fossil/coalashletter.htm

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