Hazardous Waste Listing for Coal Ash Essential

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Letter to the Editor
Eva Dillard, staff attorney
Black Warrior Riverkeeper

The stated position of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the Alabama Department of Transportation and the Alabama Public Service Commission that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should not classify coal ash as hazardous waste has more to do with the cozy relationship between those regulators and Alabama Power Co. than it does with facts, science or economics.

Alabama Power’s coal-fired steam plants in the Black Warrior watershed are recognized as among the dirtiest in the nation. Of the top 50 U.S. power plant mercury emitters by pounds in 2009, Alabama Power’s Miller Steam Plant ranked fourth and Greene County Steam Plant ranked 49th.

In January 2009, the Institute of Southern Studies compiled a list of the 100 most polluting coal plants in the United States in terms of coal ash stored in surface impoundments. Gorgas Steam Plant ranked seventh, with 2,888,290 pounds, Miller ranked 15th, and Greene County ranked 30th. The very size of these three impoundments suggests any breach or spill could dwarf the size of the catastrophic TVA’s Kingston release into the Emory River.

According to the National Inventory of Dams database, the Gorgas ash pond is rated a “significant hazard;” its failure would lead to a low probability of loss of life but to likely significant environmental and economic damage. The Miller ash pond is rated a “low hazard,” which means its failure would most probably result in damage to affected area property owners.


We believe the inadequate regulation of toxic coal ash at these impoundments in Alabama offers a textbook case of why the EPA must treat coal ash as hazardous waste. Without the stronger implementation and enforcement requirements, public health and environmental protection in our state will continue to suffer.

Currently, we are at the mercy of whatever Alabama Power chooses to do with its aging, unlined and largely unregulated impoundments. Given the very real risks associated with coal ash, that is unacceptable.
Regulation of coal ash as hazardous waste is essential to protect groundwater, minimize exposure of the public to cancer-causing agents, and avoid future costs for both environmental and economic damage.

© 2011, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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