Thursday, October 3, 2013

Federal judge says coal ash needs regulation

In a partial victory for two North Carolina advocacy groups, among several others, a federal judge has ruled that the government needs to regulate coal ash.

The order was signed Monday by Judge Reggie Walton in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It grants in part a claim by 11 advocacy groups including Appalachian Voices of Boone, Asheville's French Broad Riverkeeper and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which operates in the Carolinas.

The groups say the order "marks the first step toward federally enforceable safeguards, monitoring and protections against coal ash."

Their lawsuit, filed in 2012, sought to force the Environmental Protection Agency to write new regulations for coal ash, the power plant byproduct that's been the focus of lawsuits against Charlotte-based Duke Energy.

The groups contend EPA has failed for more than 30 years to regulate ash. The issue burst into national consciousness in 2008, when a rupture at a TVA plant in Tennessee spilled 1 billion gallons of ash over 300 acres.

Worries about contamination of Mountain Island Lake, Charlotte's water supply, groundwater and other waters -- publicized by the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and other advocates -- pushed the state of North Carolina this summer to sue Duke Energy over ash violations.

EPA, meanwhile, proposed federal regulations on ash in 2010 but has not enacted them.

This week's terse order rules in favor of the environmental groups' claims that EPA violated the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which governs solid and hazardous wastes, by failing to review the impact of ash on water and air quality.

The court ruled for the EPA on two other claims on review of standards that define hazardous waste. Environmental advocates say ash should be listed as hazardous because of the potentially toxic heavy metals it contains. The power industry says such a classification would raise the costs of handling ash by billions of dollars.

The court is expected to expand on the order within 30 days.