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Coal Ash Ruling Called Victory Over Toxic Pollution

The ruling could affect more than 1,000 active and retired coal-ash ponds nationwide. (USFWS)
The ruling could affect more than 1,000 active and retired coal-ash ponds nationwide. (USFWS)
August 28, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine — A federal appeals court has ruled that Environmental Protection Agency rules governing coal-ash pits do not adequately protect from toxic pollution flowing into rivers and streams.

The Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., has ordered the EPA to revise the Obama-era rule to properly address the health and environmental threat of coal-ash dump sites. According to Lisa Evans, senior counsel with the environmental law firm Earthjustice, that means more than 900 unlined coal-ash ponds currently in use around the country need to have stronger protections and may be forced to close.

"Plus, in a really important part of the decision, the court ruled that ponds that are sitting at plants that retired before the effective date of the rule also have to be addressed by EPA,” Evans said.

The industry had argued that the 2015 rule is too stringent. Last month, the Trump administration published revisions to the rule that would make it weaker rather than stronger.

Evans pointed out the court ruling follows the release in March of results from water-quality monitoring the industry is required to do under the existing rule.

"They revealed that almost every coal-ash pond was contaminating groundwater in excess of health standards at almost every site,” she said.

Those toxins include arsenic, cobalt, lithium and boron.

Evans said the court ruling casts doubt on the legality of the EPA's attempt to weaken the rule, and it promises welcome relief to communities affected by coal ash at more than 1,000 sites nationwide.

"Now, communities near those sites have some hope that the contamination from these ponds will be cleaned up and stopped,” she said. “And these communities can live without fear that their drinking water or their lakes and streams are contaminated."

Earthjustice has filed more than 100 lawsuits challenging Trump administration attempts to roll back environmental protections.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - ME