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Coal Ash Battles Piling Up in West Virginia
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by Jim Kotcon | 2011

A new bill by WV Rep. David McKinley says coal ash is good for you, so the EPA doesn't need to regulate it!

Ever since an ash impoundment broke loose near Kingston TN in 2008 and spilled more than a billion gallons into the Clinch River, awareness of the threats from coal ash has increased steadily, and the WV Chapter has been taking action to protect our air and water.

For many years, coal ash was considered fairly innocuous, and even had some uses that were thought to be beneficial. But lingering reports of problems have coalesced into awareness that coal ash is a huge disposal problem, with many toxic impacts that are not being properly regulated. US-EPA proposed regulations in 2010 and held a series of hearings to take public comment. But EPA recently announced that, due to the high level of public comment (EPA must analyze over 450,000 comments received during the comment period last year), final rules would not be released this year.

The problems are particularly acute in West Virginia, and three separate cases illustrate the failure to properly control discharges from coal ash disposal.

Albright Power Plant
The Albright plant is over 50 years old, and its ash landfill drains into Daugherty Run, a tributary of the Cheat River. Monitoring reports indicate that the discharges from the fill exceed permitted levels of arsenic, a well-known poison and a potent carcinogen.

In February, 2011, the Sierra Club filed a Notice of Intent to Sue unless the discharges were brought into compliance. In response, the operator, First Energy, indicated they were seeking to re-designate the stream to alternative uses that would allow a weaker arsenic discharge standard. Failing that, they would pipe the discharge directly to the Cheat River, potentially de-watering a significant flow of Daugherty Run.

In other words, First Energy had no intention of reducing their discharge; they simply wanted to find a way to legally keep discharging arsenic.

In May, 2011, we learned that First Energy apparently never received, or even applied for, a Section 404 permit to allow them to place ash fill in the headwaters. This has led the Sierra Club to file a second Notice of Intent to Sue, and a formal complaint has been filed over the arsenic discharges.

This saga illustrates the lack of pollution controls and the hazardous leachate discharged from ash landfills, precisely the kind of situation that new EPA rules should address. The lack of  nforcement and the weak permits issued by WV-DEP illustrate the need for strong federal rules.

Coresco Ash Fill
A pernicious weakness in West Virginia rules is illustrated by a permit application filed by Coresco for an expansion of an ash landfill adjacent to the Longview Power Plant in Monongalia County. West Virginia solid waste rules exempt any “beneficial use” of coal ash used in mine land reclamation. Thus, by claiming that they will be using coal ash to neutralize acidity from coal waste, Coresco is able to avoid requirements for landfill liners, leachate collection systems, lead detection, groundwater monitoring, and a host of other rules. Since the site is clearly an ash disposal fill, comments filed by the WV Sierra Club urge DEP to reject the site as a “beneficial use” and to impose all requirements of a landfill site. The applicant is plainly simply using the beneficial use exemption to authorize a largely unregulated dump.

New Hill West
Just north of Morgantown, adjacent to I-79 is the New Hill surface mine. The operator is proposing to expand the site to strip several hundred acres to the west of the current mine. Unfortunately, the coal is very high in sulfur and would generate copious amounts of acid mine drainage. WV-DEP therefore requires significant neutralizing material to be added to prevent water quality impacts. In this case, coal ash from the Morgantown Beechurst Avenue power plant was to be used. But in the mining permit, the applicant proposed applying up to 10,000 tons per acre, a layer many feet thick. Even worse, WV-DEP required no limits on discharges of heavy metals or dissolved solids known to leach when coal ash is applied to such mine sites.

In our appeal to the WV Environmental Quality Board, EQB ruled that these pollutants clearly must be limited. But rather than revise the permit to include limits on Total Dissolved Solids and heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, and chromium, WV-DEP has appealed the EQB decision to circuit court. The Sierra Club will be vigorously defending the EQB ruling to protect our water and to limit the ash discharges.

The New Hill West case illustrates that even this so-called beneficial use is really just an excuse to dump coal ash with minimal regulations. And it shows why stringent, federally enforceable rules are needed.

Now the Bad News
Instead of working to protect water quality and the health of citizens from the hazards of coal ash, West Virginia’s First District Congressman, David McKinley, introduced HR 1391 which prohibits EPA from regulating coal ash as hazardous waste. As seen from the stories above, all of the cases described are in McKinley’s own District.

Take Action
Please write a letter, e-mail, or call Rep. McKinley and ask him to withdraw HR 1391.

West Virginia needs enforceable federal regulation to protect citizens from coal ash toxins. Tell McKinley that  these are ongoing problems in our back yard and that current rules are NOT protecting citizens. Hundreds of thousands of citizens from across America want stronger rules; numerous scientific studies document that coal ash is hazardous; and the time is now for EPA to act.

Ask McKinley to let science and the rule of law work to protect us. Contact Rep. McKinley by phone at (202) 225-4172 or FAX (202) 225-7564.

For more info, call Jim Kotcon at 304-594-3322.

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