For years, the debate over the safety of coal ash was limited to the state level, as the federal government largely stayed out of it. All that changed December 22, 2008, when coal ash slurry spilled from a solid waste containment area at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Steam Plant at Harriman in Roane County, Tenn. Since then, environmentalists have been pressuring the EPA to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste. The coal industry strongly disagrees, saying the facts about coal ash do not support such a determination.
An EPA ruling had been expected by the end of 2010, but the agency had not yet spoken definitely on the issue as of late February. J. Nathan Noland, president of the Indiana Coal Council, took some comfort in the deliberation delay. That may indicate the agency is taking seriously the many comments that “were contrary to what the EPA is trying to do,” Noland said in an interview. “There’s a lot of opposition to this rule.” Many parties have submitted testimony to the EPA about the benefits of coal ash, such as in road building, he said. A finding that the ash is hazardous “has a bad impact on the beneficial uses of ash.”
The debate is playing out at the local level in several states, no more so, perhaps, than in Missouri where Ameren Corp. wants to build a new 400-acre landfill to handle coal ash waste from its 2,389-megawatt Labadie coal-burning plant near the small community of Labadie in Franklin County. The existing landfill is nearly full and Ameren wants the new facility in operation in late 2013 or early 2014.