KRC Statement On H.R. 493 - The Coal Ash Reclamation, Environment, and Safety Act of 2009
KRC has reviewed H.R. 493, and appreciates Representative Rahall's effort to assure that national minimum standards are put in place to assure that the storage and disposal of coal combustion wastes, including coal ash in impoundments meet design, engineering and construction standards sufficient to protect downstream populations and to prevent surface and groundwater pollution.
The Environmental Protection Agency reported to Congress in 1988 that coal combustion wastes need not be regulated as hazardous wastes provided that they were managed with proper standards for characterization, storage and disposal. Yet 20 years later, EPA has still failed to adopt national minimum standards to govern management and disposal of such wastes, resulting in a hodgepodge of state programs that have proven inadequate.
The characterization by Tennessee regulators of the dredge cells at the TVA Kingston plant as a "landfill" rather than an impoundment, is a classic example of undermanagement of these wastes.
Rep. Rahall's bill will assure that storage and disposal of these wastes in impoundments will occur under national minimum standards governing location, design, construction, engineering, and inspection. Stronger state programs (including programs that ban such methods of storage or disposal) that may exist are protected, and the definition of "impoundment" under the bill is broad enough to assure that any embankment-type structure storing solid, semi-solid or liquid coal combustion wastes, including designs such as the "landfill" cells that failed at Kingston, will be required to meet impoundment stability and design standards.
The bill does not eliminate the need for the new Administration to move forward promptly to fulfill the 20-year old commitment to adopt comprehensive standards to protect public health, safety and the environment in all aspects of coal waste management. The issue of undermanagement of coal combustion wastes has become more significant in recent years, as air pollution control efforts have increased both the volume of the wastes and their inherent toxicity. H.R. 493 is, in the interim, an important step towards filling a breach left by EPA's inexcusable failure to act.