Green groups hope to spotlight coal-ash issue at EPA meeting

Coal ash, the byproduct of coal-fired power plants, made headlines late in 2008 when a Tennessee Valley Authority retention pond collapsed, polluting that state’s Emory River. In Iowa, numerous regulatory lapses were detailed by the Colorado Independent’s sister site, the Iowa Independent.

But so far the issue of coal ash storage and disposal has failed to garner much attention in Colorado, despite a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report detailing a high number of coal-ash disposal ponds in the state. That may change starting this week.

The EPA will host a public hearing on proposed coal ash waste regulations Thursday at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, 1750 Welton St., Denver. The hearing will begin at 10 a.m. and run until 9 p.m. It will go later if necessary. The public is welcome to speak.

Colorado has more than 40 sites where coal ash waste is dumped. Industry groups say no new regulations are needed. Environmental groups say stricter regulations are needed. Sierra Club regional representative Roger Singer says there have been two spills in Colorado in the past three years and that in the Lamar area, coal ash waste is being disposed of in an old landfill, which he says recently caught on fire.

“It is a huge national problem,” Singer said. “New regulations are needed to make sure this toxic waste is treated properly and that arsenic and lead do not seep into groundwater.”

The 2008 spill of coal ash in Tennessee spurred the review of coal ash regulations and the proposal for new regulations which will require that storage sites are lined and that groundwater is monitored near dumps to ensure that the water isn’t being polluted by the ash.

A recent study by the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club makes the case that the disposal of coal ash is polluting water supplies throughout the United States.

The hearing Thursday will consider two proposals — one to regulate disposal more strictly and one to label coal ash waste as non-toxic and let individual states determine how to deal with it. The hearing will be broken into three sessions: 10-noon, 1-5 p.m., and 6:30-9 p.m.

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