Protect Alabama from Coal Ash

Alabama Department of Environmental Management hearing.officer@adem.alabama.gov

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Alabama's state coal ash program must be designed to protect the people of Alabama.

Talking Points:

1. ADEM must design a strong coal ash program, one that is every bit as protective as the 2015 CCR Rule.

2. ADEM must not weaken the requirements for groundwater monitoring, cleanup, and remediation of coal ash contamination.

3. Without financial assurance requirements, ADEM risks creating a huge unfunded liability for taxpayers.

4. ADEM must require any facility with an impoundment or landfill storing coal ash to test any drinking water wells within a half mile of their operation.

5. Alabama needs a state coal ash program designed to protect people, water, land, and wildlife, and not the power companies and landfill owners.

Background:

Despite the recent release of groundwater monitoring data which demonstrates that toxic pollutants in coal ash are contaminating groundwater at power plants throughout Alabama, recent regulations drafted by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) would significantly undermine rules currently providing some protection to the citizens of Alabama from coal ash pollution.

In December of 2014 the EPA issued what was supposed to be a final federal rule (the “2015 CCR Rule”) to regulate the disposal of coal combustion residuals (“CCR” or “coal ash”) produced by coal-burning power plants. According to EPA and others in the scientific community, without the implementation of these rules and the oversight they provide, there is significant potential for coal ash landfills and storage impoundments to leach toxic contaminants like arsenic into groundwater, impair drinking water supplies, and cause adverse impacts on human health and the environment.

Thanks to the Coal Ash Rule, we now know this significant potential has been realized in Alabama. On March 2, 2018, Alabama Power and other utilities in the state were required to publicly post groundwater monitoring data -- data they were required to collect and make available to the public because of the Coal Ash Rule. The groundwater monitoring data shows toxic pollutants at concerning and significant levels near Alabama’s unlined ash ponds and lined ash disposal landfills. The release of this data underscores the necessity of the Coal Ash Rule. Yet, the EPA recently announced its intention to write loopholes and exceptions into the rule that will weaken its requirements and therefore its protection of water, people, and the environment.    

In 2016, Congress provided authority for states to operate permit programs for the disposal of coal ash. Alabama (ADEM) recently issued draft rules to establish such a program and has invited the public to comment by March 21. Unfortunately, Alabama’s rules take full advantage of the new EPA loopholes. Unlike the original Coal Ash Rule, ADEM is allowed to suspend groundwater monitoring of coal ash pollution; to set less protective cleanup standards when a problem is identified; to extend compliance deadlines for cleanup; and to exempt a coal ash release from remediation. Surprisingly, there are no financial assurance requirements in Alabama’s proposed permit program, which means there is nothing to prevent private landfill or impoundment owners from defaulting on their costly obligations to properly contain and dispose of coal ash waste -- and to shift high compliance and cleanup costs to taxpayers and local communities.

Pollution from coal ash disposal facilities affects groundwater, and therefore nearby drinking water wells (as proven by a study conducted near facilities in North Carolina), and streams, rivers, and lakes where Alabamians enjoy swimming, fishing, and boating. The state should be doing more, not less, to protect us from these unseen toxic contaminants.

Petition by
Black Warrior Riverkeeper
Birmingham, Alabama

To: Alabama Department of Environmental Management hearing.officer@adem.alabama.gov
From: [Your Name]

Please design a strong coal ash program, one that is every bit as protective as the 2015 CCR Rule. ADEM must not weaken the requirements for groundwater monitoring, cleanup, and remediation of coal ash contamination. Without financial assurance requirements, ADEM risks creating a huge unfunded liability for taxpayers. ADEM must require any facility with an impoundment or landfill storing coal ash to test any drinking water wells within a half mile of their operation. Alabama needs a state coal ash program designed to protect people, water, land, and wildlife, and not the power companies and landfill owners.