The federal government has released the nation’s first-ever rules on how to handle, store and dispose of waste from coal-fired power plants. The final iteration of the regulations has largely disappointed environmental groups—who hoped for more stringent rules. Industry groups were more optimistic, but largely said they would have preferred the Environmental Protection Agency not finalize the rules at all and leave the matter up to Congress. The EPA was choosing between two options, and chose to regulate coal ash as akin to household garbage, rather than hazardous waste.
The new Environmental Protection Agency rules seek to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030. State's heavily dependent on coal, like Kentucky, are expected to have some flexibility in meeting a new standard. Still, Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett believes an already diminished eastern Kentucky mining industry would suffer more job losses and says the potential impact goes beyond the coal fields to all manufacturers.
The Sierra Club is calling a circuit court decision to overrule a Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet permit that allowed a coal-burning power plant to dump polluted water into the Ohio River a landmark.
Louisville Gas and Electric’s Trimble County power plant uses settling ponds for wastewater before sending it into the Ohio River. The Energy and Environment Cabinet issued a permit for this treatment effective April 2010. Sierra Club Kentucky Energy Chair Wallace McMullen said the permitted treatment isn’t enough to keep the water clean.
“We were fairly appalled that they were letting water which has been used to try to absorb all the nasty poisons in the flue gas – arsenic, mercury, barium, what have you – and it’s just going straight into the Ohio without any significant treatment,” he said.
A coalition of environmental and clean water groups, including the Sierra Club, released a new report Tuesday highlighting the need for strong Environmental Protection Agency standards to limit toxic water pollution from Kentucky coal plants, including west Paducah’s Shawnee Fossil Plant.