LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) — The Environmental Protection Agency renewed its stance on toxic wastewater from coal-burning power plants, including in Kentucky, on Tuesday.

The H.L. Spurlock plant in Maysville has been offered conditional approval if they fix groundwater monitoring as a condition for the continued operation of its coal ash pond, the EPA said.

This is the first time the EPA has enforced a 2015 rule aimed at reducing groundwater pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Plants in four states will be expected to close their coal ash ponds months or years ahead of schedule, the EPA said Tuesday, citing deficiencies with groundwater monitoring, cleanup, or other problems.

“I’ve seen firsthand how coal ash contamination can hurt people and communities. Coal ash surface impoundments and landfills must operate and close in a manner that protects public health and the environment,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in a news release.

For too long, communities already disproportionately impacted by high levels of pollution have been burdened by improper coal ash disposal. Today’s actions will help us protect communities and hold facilities accountable. We look forward to working with our state partners to reverse damage that has already occurred. EPA will support communities with stakeholder engagement, technical assistance, compliance assistance, and enforcement.

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan

Earthjustice reports a total of 43 sites in Kentucky: 28 opened, seven closed, and eight have a notice of intent to close. Of all of these units, only 2 have a disclosed lined status.

In 2020 Kentucky ranked 7th in coal production according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The EPA plans to finalize a federal permitting program for the disposal of coal ash and establish regulations for legacy coal ash surface impoundments. The EPA will also continue its review of state-level CCR program applications to ensure they are as protective as federal regulations.

The EPA’s three major actions to protect ground water

Their listed goals came with the comment that the EPA is committed to working with states to ensure robust protections for communities.

  1. Proposing decisions on requests for extensions to the current deadline for initiating closure of unlined CCR surface impoundments
  2. Putting several facilities on notice regarding their obligations to comply with CCR regulations
  3. Laying out plans for future regulatory actions to ensure coal ash impoundments meet strong environmental and safety standards.

What is Coal Ash?

Coal ash is one of the largest types of industrial waste generated in the United States, nearly 130 million tons of coal ash was generated in 2014 according to the American Coal Ash Association’s Coal Combustion Product Production & Use Survey Report.

According to the EPA, coal ash is mostly produced from the burning of coal in coal-fired power plants and can be broken down into a number of by-products, including:

  • Fly Ash, a powdery material, mostly of silica, made from the burning of finely ground coal in a boiler.
  • Bottom Ash, a coarse, angular ash particle that is too large to be carried up into the smoke stacks so it forms in the bottom of the coal furnace.
  • Boiler Slag, molten bottom ash from slag tap and cyclone type furnaces that turns into pellets that have a smooth glassy appearance after it is cooled with water.
  • Flue Gas Desulfurization Material, a material leftover from the process of reducing sulfur dioxide emissions from a coal-fired boiler that can be a wet sludge consisting of calcium sulfite or calcium sulfate or a dry powered material that is a mixture of sulfites and sulfates.

Coal ash contains particles of mercury, cadmium, and arsenic that pollute waterways, groundwater, drinking water, and the air leading to respiratory illness among those living near sites where the waste is stored.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.