Ten environmental and health advocacy groups, some with North Carolina roots, said today they will sue federal regulators for delaying rules on coal ash from power plants.
Coal-fired power plants produce tons of the stuff, which contains metals that can be toxic in high doses. A 2008 deluge of ash sludge from a ruptured TVA dike in eastern Tennessee became a poster child for federal regulation.
Since then, contamination of groundwater or surface water has been documented in 36 states, the groups say. Duke Energy found elevated levels of iron and manganese, which is found in ash but also occurs naturally, around all 13 of its Carolinas ash basins but within plant boundaries. Testing continues.
Hundreds of people poured into a Charlotte meeting room for hearings on ash rules the Environmental Protection Agency proposed in 2010, including one version that would classify ash as hazardous waste. EPA estimated that option could cost utilities up to $1.5 billion a year in compliance costs.
But the agency, under intense industry pressure, has delayed issuing the rules. The environmental law firm Earthjustice, representing 10 advocacy groups, today gave notice it will file a lawsuit to force EPA's hand.
Legal action has worked in prodding EPA to action, most recently in its December issuance of long-delayed rules limiting toxic air pollution from power plants. That measure resulted from a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center, which has an office in Chapel Hill.
Among the groups to be included in the ash suit are Boone-based Appalachian Voices, the French Broad Riverkeeper in Asheville and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a Tennessee group active in North Carolina.