EPA Rejects Alabama Proposal on Coal Ash Regulation

The Environmental Protection Agency rejected an application from the state of Alabama for a permit to manage coal ash landfills and impoundments in the state, arguing that the state’s plan would not adequately protect waterways and people as required by federal law.

In a May 23 press release, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the EPA was prepared to help Alabama “submit an approvable application” for a program that would protect public health.

Coal ash, or coal combustion residuals, is the byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity. The ash contains contaminants linked to health issues like cancer, including arsenic, chromium, and mercury.

The EPA allows states to take over the disposal and containment of coal ash as long as they meet the minimum federal requirements.

In its final denial of Alabama’s permit application, the EPA was especially concerned about the state’s proposed plan for the storage and containment of coal ash in “unlined surface impoundments,” which the agency said could cause the ash to come into contact with groundwater.

The EPA also cited other “deficiencies” in Alabama’s permit request, including insufficient groundwater monitoring and a corrective plan for investigation and clean-up.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) said it was disappointed with the EPA’s decision and planned to appeal the rejection in federal court.

The agency argued that the EPA attempted to “shift the goalpost” in determining what met federal compliance and insisted that the state’s program met the EPA’s requirements for approval.

The ADEM said the permits issued under its program led the way “in protecting the public and the environment.”

Environmental groups applauded the EPA’s decision.

Mobile Baykeeper’s Cade Kistler called the EPA’s final denial a “significant victory” and said it underscored what environmental groups had long argued, “that leaving toxic coal ash in unlined leaking pits” near waterways was “unacceptable.”