America’s Second-Biggest Form Of Waste Is About To Be Federally Regulated For The First Time

The EPA has confirmed that on Friday, Dec. 19, 2014 it will release its first-ever regulations on the second-largest form of waste generation in the United States: coal ash.

When it is is finalized, the rule is expected to include requirements on how coal ash should be disposed, how existing coal ash pits should be cleaned up, whether coal ash should be designated as a hazardous material, and who should be responsible for enforcing the rules.

Coal ash is a byproduct of coal burning, and often contains chemicals like arsenic, chromium, mercury, and lead. After producing it, coal companies sometimes dispose of it by dumping it into ditches, and filling those ditches with water. Those ditches, called coal ash ponds or lagoons, are often unlined, meaning the coal ash comes in direct contact with the environment.

There are more than 1,400 coal ash sites in the United States, most of which are located in close proximity to lakes and rivers due to the vast quantity of water needed to burn coal for power.

Right now, coal ash ponds are federally designated as nonhazardous, and enforcement over them is left to the states. Environmental groups hope that will change under the new rule. Among other things, they want the material to be officially designated as hazardous; they want to require companies to clean up existing unlined pits immediately; and they want the federal government, not states, to enforce the rules.

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