Coal-state lawmakers float plan to limit EPA waste rule options

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EPA is currently mulling two approaches: The first creates a federal enforcement regime under the hazardous waste title — Subtitle C — of the waste law that creates new permitting and storage requirements.

The second option is a less prescriptive plan under a non-hazardous waste section — Subtitle D — that leaves more authority in the hands of the power companies and states.

EPA has been under pressure from the coal industry and allied lawmakers to back off the tougher approach (check out our 2010 posts on this here and here).

Regulators are targeting the substance — stored in liquid form in surface ponds and in solid form at landfills — for new controls.

The EPA push stems in part from a late 2008 spill from a breached storage pond in Tennessee, which dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of the liquid material into and around a nearby river, destroying and damaging several homes.

But opponents of the tougher option EPA is mulling say it would be burdensome and isn’t necessary to ensure protections. Green groups disagree and want the more stringent approach.

The coal wastes are a public health risk because they contain mercury, cadmium and arsenic that can reach groundwater and drinking water without proper safeguards, according to EPA. Draft rules floated last May are aimed at ensuring new controls such as liners at landfills and surface ponds.