The magnitude of the recent release of coal ash from the TVA dam is hard to fathom, though the pictures certainly give some sense of its magnitude. Now, as regulators and Congress attempt to get their collective arms around the import of the release, some of the regulatory implications of the release are starting to emerge. According to a report in yesterday’s Greenwire, Congressional hearings this week may include a discussion regarding whether coal ash should continue to be exempt from regulation as a hazardous waste under RCRA
The exemption of coal ash is critical to coal-fired power plants. According to the article, 130 million tons of fly ash were generated last year, 42 percent of which were beneficially reused. Moreover, there are approximately 600 landfills and containment ponds holding fly ash. Having helped a coal-fired power plant defend a law suit involving an on-site ash landfill some years ago, I can tell you from personal experience that placing fly ash within the ambit of RCRA hazardous waste rules would be a major headache for coal-fired power plants – and a major new weapon in the armory of those who want to shut down coal plants any way possible.