Environmental groups say the Obama administration let them — and the public — down with its new rule for coal ash disposal.

They argue that the Environmental Protection Agency failed Friday to set a strong enough rule to protect communities, waterways and drinking water from coal ash spills, and that major disasters like those in 2008 and earlier this year could happen again under the rule unveiled Friday.

{mosads}“Today’s rule doesn’t prevent more tragic spills like the ones we are still trying to clean up in North Carolina and Tennessee,” Lisa Evans, an attorney with Earthjustice, said in a statement.

“And it won’t stop the slower moving disaster that is unfolding for communities around the country, as leaky coal ash ponds and dumps poison water,” she said.

The Environmental Integrity Project, which worked with Earthjustice on a lawsuit that forced the EPA to decide if it would regulate coal ash, was similarly disappointed.

“While EPA’s coal ash rule takes some long overdue steps to establish minimum national groundwater monitoring and cleanup standards, it relies too heavily on the industry to police itself, ” said Eric Schaeffe, the group’s executive director.

The new standards add various requirements for new and existing coal ash ponds and landfills, like structural integrity standards and monitoring for leaks.

But the rule doesn’t cover ponds at closed plants, nor does it designate coal ash as hazardous waste, a label that would have brought with it a full suite of new protections.

The Natural Resources Defense Council said the EPA failed to protect public health and waterways.

“The EPA is bowing to coal-fired utilities’ interests and putting the public at great risk by treating toxic coal ash as simple garbage instead of the hazardous waste that it is,” Scott Slesinger, the group’s top lobbyist, said in a statement.

“Unlike the majority of environmental standards — which are backstopped by federal enforcement — this rule all but leaves people who live near coal ash dumps to fend for themselves,” he said.

The rule does not provide for federal enforcement of the standards, instead encouraging states to adopt and enforce them.

“In recent years our states have failed to adequately address the widespread threat of coal ash, and we are concerned that state decision-makers will not do their part in protecting waterways and the health of citizens,” Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement.

Holleman highlighted enforceability as one of the “glaring flaws” in the EPA’s plan.

The EPA defended itself against the criticism, saying the rule is strong.

“This rule does essentially what we hoped to accomplish, regardless of what subtitle we regulate under,” EPA head Gina McCarthy told reporters.

In a blog post later Friday, Mathy Stanislaus, the agency’s assistant administrator for solid waste, said the environment will be safe from coal ash under the regulations.

“This new rule protects communities from coal ash impoundment failures, like the catastrophic Kingston, Tennessee spill, and establishes safeguards to prevent groundwater contamination and air emissions from coal ash disposal,” he wrote

Tags coal ash Earthjustice Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy Natural Resources Defense Council

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