EPA shoots down Alabama coal ash regulation proposal

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday rejected Alabama’s proposal to take over coal ash regulations, saying the state’s plan doesn’t do enough to protect residents and waterways.

The agency said the state proposal provides “significantly less protective measures” than those required by federal regulations and “fails to adequately address groundwater contamination during the closure of these coal ash facilities.”

“EPA is committed to protecting people from exposure to contaminants such as coal ash that can pose cancer risks and other serious health problems,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a news release.

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Coal ash is what’s left over after burning coal to produce electricity. Coal ash contains contaminants such as mercury, chromium and arsenic that have been linked to cancer and other health problems. States can oversee the disposal of coal ash, but they must meet minimum federal requirements.

A sign on the exterior of the EPA building in Washington, DC (iStock)

M. Lynn Battle, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, said in an email that the agency is reviewing the 174-page document and will comment on its decision at a later date.

The EPA warned last year that it was prepared to reject Alabama’s program, citing deficiencies in the state’s permit regarding closure requirements for unlined surface impoundments, groundwater monitoring and required corrective measures.

The Southern Environmental Law Center and other groups praised the decision.

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“Today is a huge victory for all Alabamians who value clean water,” Cade Kistler with Mobile Baykeeper said in a statement. “EPA’s final denial underscores what our communities have been saying all along: that leaving toxic coal ash in unlined leaky pits along our river is unacceptable.”