Jul 27, 2018

New Coal Ash Pit Rules May Impact Groundwater Quality

EPA’s new coal ash pit regulations ease federal oversight and provide more state flexibility

New coal ash pit rules may threaten groundwater quality
New coal ash pit rules may threaten groundwater quality

On July 17, the U.S. EPA changed coal ash pit regulations by easing federal oversight and providing states with more regulatory flexibility. The new rules are met with controversy following major coal ash pit spills that polluted waterways in Tennessee and North Carolina. According to the Washington Post, the new rule will impact more than 400 coal-fired power plants across the country.

Under the new rule, states will have the power to suspend groundwater monitoring if they determine that there are no leaks and they also will have the power to issue a certification of compliance for coal ash storage sites when previously a professional engineers was required to do this. Notably, coal ash pits that have been deemed at risk for leaks, including those near groundwater or wetlands, will be allowed to continue operating beyond April 2019 when they were originally scheduled to close all the way until October 2020. 

“We have very clear evidence that coal ash ponds are leaking into groundwater sources,” Avner Vengosh, a Duke University expert coal ash told the Post. “The question is, has it reached areas where people use it for drinking water? We just don’t know.”

On the other hand, new EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler hailed the new rule as a balance of de-regulation and environmental protection. 

“These amendments provide states and utilities much-needed flexibility in the management of coal ash, while ensuring human health and the environment are protected,” Wheeler said in a statement.