The Biden administration is celebrating a proposed denial of Alabama's ability to manage coal ash.
Coal ash is a thin residue that remains when coal-fired electric power plants produce energy. It builds to leave piles of ash.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a proposed denial of the state's permit program to manage coal combustion residuals. The EPA said the Alabama Department of Environmental Management's (ADEM) requirements do not protect waterways and people enough. The agency said ADEM does not require groundwater infiltration to be adequately addressed when coal ash units are closed.
"Exposure to coal ash can lead to serious health concerns like cancer if the ash isn't managed appropriately," said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. "Low-income and underserved communities are especially vulnerable to coal ash in waterways, groundwater, drinking water, and in the air. This is why EPA works closely with states to ensure coal ash is disposed of safely so that water sources remain free of this pollution and communities are protected from contamination."
The EPA was made aware of the issues when ADEM requested approval of its coal combustion residuals state permit program.
The agency's final ruling could force Alabama Power and ADEM to develop a new coal ash plan, including the nearly 21 million tons of coal ash built up near the Barry Electric Generating Plant in northern Mobile County.
EPA officials discussed needed changes with ADEM officials but claimed ADEM has not adjusted.
The EPA could shut down facilities not complying with federal regulations if the proposed denial of ADEM's coal ash permit program is finalized.
"If EPA determines that there are any immediate threats to human health or the environment posed by CCR facilities (whether unpermitted or currently permitted by the state), EPA will consider using all available authorities, including enforcement and response authorities provided under federal law," an EPA press release stated.
ADEM responded to the proposal with the following statement:
"The permits issued by ADEM for the closure of coal ash impoundments and the remediation of groundwater around the impoundments meet all current state and federal requirements and are protective of human health and the environment. This action by EPA is not unexpected since EPA is currently defending multiple lawsuits related to the same issues cited as the basis for the proposed denial of ADEM's program that cleans up coal ash impoundments in Alabama."
Environmental groups are suing Alabama Power over the storing of coal ash on the banks of the Mobile River. Mobile Baykeeper and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) filed a lawsuit against Alabama Power last year over coal ash on the banks of the Mobile River.
The organizations claim Alabama Power is polluting groundwater with coal ash and could wipe out the lush, biologically diverse region should it be breached by heavy flooding, a hurricane or other disaster.
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