EPA introduces new rules for legacy coal ash pond cleanup

New regulations released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency aim to tackle the cleanup of legacy coal ash ponds, requiring stringent measures to prevent groundwater contamination.

Gautama Mehta reports for Grist.


In short:

  • The regulations extend 2015 rules, demanding closure of coal ash ponds that contact groundwater.
  • Utilities are mandated to monitor and rectify any leaks, and ensure groundwater is cleaned from contaminants.
  • The new rules could face challenges due to varying state regulations and potential political shifts post-election.

Key quote:

"EPA’s new rule is aimed at cleaning up coal plants once and for all."

— Lisa Evans, senior attorney at Earthjustice

Why this matters:

Legacy coal ash ponds, the often unlined pits where power plants have historically disposed of the ash residue from burning coal, pose significant environmental and health risks, particularly to groundwater systems. Over time, these ponds can leak hazardous contaminants like arsenic, mercury, and lead into nearby groundwater, which many communities rely on for drinking, bathing, and irrigation.

Coal ash disposal disproportionately impacts poor communities and people of color; residents in affected areas may face increased risks of cancer, neurological disorders, and other health problems associated with long-term exposure to heavy metals.

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