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EPA: No More Shades of Gray for Coal Ash in CO

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Photo: Coal ash sludge in Kingston, TN. Courtesy: cleanwateraction.org
Photo: Coal ash sludge in Kingston, TN. Courtesy: cleanwateraction.org
February 4, 2014

PUEBLO, Colo. - The disposal of coal ash in Colorado will become a black-and-white issue starting in December. Late last week the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to finalize the first-ever federal regulations for the disposal of toxic waste generated by coal-fired power plants.

According to Jared Saylor, campaign director for Earthjustice, the regulations will help create safer practices for the 14 coal-fired power plants in the state.

"Colorado already has had two sites where they have proven cases of contamination," he pointed out. "It just goes to show that protecting our environment, protecting our water, is really a crucial step in making sure that the coal ash doesn't poison us and poison our drinking water supplies."

The two sites Saylor referred to are Pueblo and Craig, where the EPA confirmed toxins in the water supply. The agency's plans came after Earthjustice and other environmental groups filed a lawsuit demanding such regulations. Colorado's plants generate 1.7 million tons of coal ash every year, and the state ranks 24th in the country for coal-ash generation.

Coal-ash ponds contain the byproduct of coal-fired power generation and at this point are not required to be lined. Power companies also are not required to disclose exactly what chemicals are being released into the ponds. Toxins such as mercury and lead have been found in the groundwater supply around the ponds, and Saylor said it's time something is done.

"This is toxic waste that's essentially dumped into unlined and unmonitored pits and landfills, right next to these power plants," he charged. "Our household garbage is better regulated than coal ash that's coming out of these facilities."

In 2008 a dike ruptured at a coal-ash pond in Kingston, Tennessee, and released more than a billion gallons of coal ash. Following that disaster, EPA administrators said they would take regulatory action.

Link to fact sheet on coal ash in Colorado at Earthjustice.org/sites. Link to relevant court documents at Earthjustice.org/documents.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - CO