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EPA to Take Action on Coal Ash

March 10, 2009
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Responding to last year's massive coal ash spill at a Tennessee Valley Authority facility in Kingston, Tenn.,  the EPA on Tuesday laid out a plan to gather critical coal ash impoundment information from electrical utilities nationwide, conduct on-site assessments to determine structural integrity and vulnerabilities, order cleanup and repairs where needed, and develop new regulations for future safety.

Responding to last year's massive coal ash spill at a Tennessee Valley Authority facility in Kingston, Tenn.,  the EPA on Tuesday laid out a plan to gather critical coal ash impoundment information from electrical utilities nationwide, conduct on-site assessments to determine structural integrity and vulnerabilities, order cleanup and repairs where needed, and develop new regulations for future safety.

In letters to utility companies, the EPA requested that electric utilities that have surface impoundments or similar units provide information about the structural integrity of their units. The agency said that estimates there may be as many as 300 such units. These information requests are legally enforceable and must be responded to fully.

"Environmental disasters like the one last December in Kingston should never happen anywhere in this country," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in an agency press release. "That is why we are announcing several actions to help us properly protect the families who live near these facilities and the places where they live, work, play and learn."

The December 2008 release of coal ash from TVA's Kingston, Tennessee facility flooded more than 300 acres of land, damaging homes and property, according to the EPA. Coal ash from the release flowed into the Emory and Clinch rivers, filling large areas of the rivers and killing fish. TVA cost estimates for the clean-up range between $525 million and $825 million, which does not include long-term cleanup costs.

Working closely with other federal agencies and the states, EPA will review the information provided by the facilities to identify impoundments or similar units that need priority attention. EPA also will visit many of these facilities to see first hand if the management units are structurally sound.

The agency will require appropriate remedial action at any facility that is found to pose a risk for potential failure. The assessment and analysis of all such units located at electric utilities in the U.S. will be compiled in a report and made available to the public.

The EPA also noted it is moving forward quickly to develop regulations to address the management of coal combustion residuals. The agency anticipates having a proposed rule ready for public comment by the end of the year.

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