Late on Friday, May 12, following on the heels of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) giving in to industry on coal ash water pollution rules [UPDATE: send your comment on the water rule rollback to EPA by July 6], a utility group petitioned the EPA to hold up and reconsider the landmark 2014 Coal Combustion Residuals Rule (CCR Rule or Coal Ash Rule). If Administrator Scott Pruitt approves the request as he did with the water rules, communities could continue to be deprived of basic protections like monitoring closed ash sites for toxic leakage, or applying safety standards to ash pits at inactive coal-fired power plants. Cleanup and reporting deadlines would be delayed and some parts of the rule would likely be weakened or cut out entirely.
The Utility Solid Waste Activities Group that filed the request (view their petition and cover letter as .pdf) represents all major Southeast utilities, including Duke Energy, Southern Company, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Tampa Electric through the Edison Electric Institute, as well as utility co-ops (known in the region as EMCs or Electric Membership Corporations), and municipal utilities in the American Public Power Association. These utilities are attempting to weasel out of common-sense ash handling measures, despite the fact that both of the major coal ash industrial accidents that exposed the magnitude of the coal ash problem (and led to the rule) occurred in the Southeast: the TVA spill at Kingston in 2008 and the Duke Dan River spill in 2014.
Like last month’s stay on the water discharge rule, a potential stay on the Coal Ash Rule extends unconscionable risk for the people who live near coal ash pits, which can rupture or leak toxics into drinking water, while pandering to corporate utilities that have gotten away with dangerous waste handling for decades. At the same time, staying the rule just adds to inconvenient uncertainty for utilities, which need to plan well beyond the timeframe of the current administration.
SACE joins EarthJustice, Waterkeeper Alliance, Environmental Integrity Project and other allies in urging Administrator Pruitt to deny the utilities’ petition and protect our land and water as EPA is charged to do.