New Rule Will Keep Communities Safe from Coal Ash

Early in the morning on December 22, 2008, a dam failed at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant near Knoxville, spilling 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash over a roughly 300-acre area. The ash flooded into the Emory River and covered homes, putting people’s health and the environment at risk. A major gas line was ruptured, several houses destroyed and a nearby neighborhood evacuated. Coal ash is the waste produced from coal power generation, and it contains toxic elements like mercury, cadmium and arsenic. It poses significant health risks if it gets into drinking water or mixes with the air we breathe.

Today, Administrator Gina McCarthy signed a new rule to help ensure that this doesn’t happen again and that coal ash is managed safely. This new rule protects communities from coal ash impoundment failures, like the catastrophic Kingston, Tennessee spill, and establishes safeguards to prevent groundwater contamination and air emissions from coal ash disposal.

After the Kingston spill, we launched a national effort to determine how we could protect communities from environmental and economic costs from another coal ash spill. We assessed the structural integrity of more than 500 surface impoundments and other structures where coal ash is stored. We started with impoundments that had the greatest potential for harm if they failed. We also extensively studied the effects of coal ash on the environment and public health, evaluated more than 450,000 comments to our proposed rule, listened to testimonies at eight public hearings, and reviewed comments from notices on new data and analysis.

The new rule was shaped by our findings from this process. It requires impoundments and landfills to be inspected regularly for structural safety, and to monitor nearby groundwater for signs of leakage. Power plant owners will be required to provide regular updates on compliance. They’ll also still have the opportunity to recycle coal ash, which saves them the cost of disposal while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of other resources we use.

Communities and states have a role to play in carrying out the new rule, too. People will more easily be able to get information about coal ash impoundments near their homes. States will work with us to create their own plans to implement the new requirements.

We’re committed to keeping communities safe from coal ash spills. This new rule will help to ensure that spills like the one at the Kingston Plant never happen again.

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