EPA rejects Alabama's plan for coal ash management

An aerial view shows the aftermath of a retention pond wall collapse at the Tennessee Valley Authorities Kingston Fossil Plant, Monday, Dec. 22, 2008. The Tennessee Valley Authority says the 40-acre pond held a slurry of ash generated by the coal-burning Kingston Steam Plant. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday said it is poised to reject Alabama’s proposal to take over coal ash regulation, saying the state is not doing enough to protect people and waterways.

The agency issued a proposed denial of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s application to allow the state permit program to operate in lieu of the federal program. The agency said in a news release that Alabama’s program is significantly less protective of people and waterways than the federal regulations require.

“Exposure to coal ash can lead to serious health concerns like cancer if the ash isn’t managed appropriately,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Low-income and underserved communities are especially vulnerable to coal ash in waterways, groundwater, drinking water, and in the air.”

The agency said it identified deficiencies in ADEM’s permits with closure requirements for unlined surface impoundments, groundwater monitoring networks, and corrective action requirements.

ADEM did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Coal ash is what remains when coal is burned to generate electricity. Coal ash contains contaminants such as mercury, chromium and arsenic associated with cancer and other health problems.

The EPA has approved programs in Texas, Georgia and Oklahoma.

The Southern Environmental Law Center praised the decision to deny the Alabama permit.

“By proposing to deny ADEM’s application to take over coal ash regulation in Alabama, the EPA has stood up for Alabama communities and our state’s clean water,” said Barry Brock, director of SELC’s Alabama office.

“ADEM has repeatedly allowed Alabama Power and TVA to leave coal ash beside our rivers and lakes, sitting deep in groundwater, and threatening communities and our water resources,” Brock said.