10:50am

Thu August 18, 2011
Environmental Watchdog

Kentucky Among Worst in Coal Ash Handling

A new study faults Kentucky regulators for their lax oversight of coal ash.  There are more than nine million tons of coal ash generated in Kentucky every year. The ash, left over after coal is burned, is stored in ash ponds and dry landfills. The report says the combination of lots of ash and little regulation earns Kentucky the rank of the fifth worst in the United States.

Lisa Evans of Earthjustice, who co-authored the report, says the lack of regular reporting requirement, emergency action planning and groundwater monitoring helped secure Kentucky’s spot on the list. But while dry coal ash landfills have been getting more publicity in Louisville lately, she says the state’s number of wet impoundments is more of a threat.

“There, when you have a wet pond, you have the danger of a cataclysmic spill as you had in Kingston,” she said. “And you also have the waste suspended in water, which releases all its toxic contaminants, which can then go into underlying drinking water or into surface water.”

Bruce Scott, the commissioner of Kentucky’s Department for Environmental Protection says the commonwealth could tighten its regulations on its own, but he would rather wait.

“The best way to deal with that is to have a national minimum set of standards,” he said. “Yes, each state could go about it in its own way, including Kentucky. The best way to deal with that, though, in order to have an equitable manner in which to address the issue, is to have that national standard.”

Scott supports a bill currently before Congress that would allow states to set up their own coal ash disposal programs with minimal federal oversight. Another option, favored by environmental groups, is to let the Environmental Protection Agency adopt its own coal ash rules and regulate the material as a hazardous waste.