The groups, who filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, say EPA is violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) by failing to updates its regulations.
The complaint says the waste streams contain “large quantities” of arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxins linked to neurological, developmental and other health problems.
EPA floated draft rules almost two years ago laying out options for regulation of the wastes.
The coal industry and many coal-state lawmakers are seeking to prevent EPA from going with the tougher of the two options: regulating the materials under the hazardous waste title of RCRA, which is Subtitle C.
The push for coal ash rules stems in part from a late 2008 spill from a breached storage pond in Tennessee.
The accident dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of the liquid material into and around a nearby river, destroying and damaging several homes.
“Three decades since EPA last reviewed the coal ash disposal standards and over three years since the [Tennessee Valley Authority] Kingston spill, citizens still lack basic protections from dumping of toxic ash,” said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, in a statement.
“Meanwhile, toxic dumping continues to rise: in 2010 alone, power plants used unsafe and leak-prone coal ash ponds to dispose of wastes containing 113.6 million pounds of toxic metals, a nearly ten percent increase from 2009. Yet EPA’s proposed standards for safe disposal, including a plan to close down ash ponds within five years, have gone nowhere,” he said.