Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Coal Ash Regulation

Coal ash from power plants is often stored in local ponds. Although the polluted water becomes extremely dangerous (you want an ice cold glass of coal sludge?), power companies usually build sturdy walls around the sludge ponds to prevent seepage. In December of 2008, however, a Tennessee Valley Authority containment wall in eastern Tennessee broke, spilling 300 million gallons of sludge and flooding 15 homes. The image above shows one of the homes (photo courtesy of the Freakonomics blog and Dorothy Griffith).

The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that it would begin monitoring coal ash disposal sites. It identified 44 high hazard potential sites, places that are most likely to experience a similar spill. Although this is a great first step, EPA needs to clearly outline its plans for regulating coal ash. According to Stephen Smith:

It’s still unclear to me what the E.P.A.’s ultimate goal here is to do. Are they really going to aggressively regulate this material like they need to, or are they taking more of a hands-off approach?
It will be interesting to see how the EPA handles this issue in the coming months.

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