News | December 23, 2008

39 Groups Call On Obama To Stop Millions Of Tons Of Hazardous Coal Mine Waste Pollution Under Pending OSM Rule

Fearing even more pollution of precious water supplies with toxic chemicals under a pending Office of Surface Mining (OSM) rule proposal, 39 environmental and grassroots groups are urging President-Elect Barack Obama to protect Americans by imposing meaningful federal regulation of coal combustion waste (CCW). Coal-fired power plants produce approximately 129 million tons of waste per year, making CCW the second largest industrial waste source in the US.

CCW contains numerous hazardous chemicals including arsenic, selenium, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, boron, thallium, and molybdenum. When coal ash comes in contact with water, hazardous constituents leach out of the waste and contaminate groundwater and surface water. Coal ash has poisoned surface water and groundwater supplies in at least 23 states. It is estimated that at least 25 million tons of CCW are dumped in coal mines each year.

The list of signers include the Environmental Integrity Project, Citizens Coal Council and Kentucky Resources Council, Inc along with other grassroots organizations from 10 states including Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, Texas, Wyoming and Colorado. For the full list of signers and the text of the letter go to on the Web.

In August 2007, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a draft risk assessment that found extremely high risks to human health and the environment from the disposal of coal ash in waste ponds and landfills. In March 2007, the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) published a draft rule permitting the disposal of coal combustion waste in mines. OSM received almost 2000 comments voicing concern that the proposed rule failed to protect health and the environment. Despite the US EPA's 2007 risk assessment and over 70 cases of water contamination from CCW throughout the U.S., OSM is expected to issue a proposed rule within weeks, without responding to the real concerns raised by those submitting comments.

Jeffrey Stant, director, Coal Combustion Waste Initiative, Environmental Integrity Project, said: "Our letter asks the Obama Administration to send this rule back to OSM and EPA. All stakeholders should have an equal say in the rule's construction from the ground up. After all, it is the affect citizens – not the coal industry – that has its precious drinking water at stake in the outcome of this matter."

Lisa Graves Marcucci, president, Jefferson Action Group, said: "A risk assessment released by the US EPA revealed that coal ash poses extremely serious threats to human health and the environment when disposed in waste ponds and landfills. Data from groundwater and surface water monitoring at numerous coal mines where coal ash has been disposed reveals contamination from toxic chemicals such as arsenic, lead and boron. Disposal of coal ash in mines is a growing practice that threatens the health and environment of coalfield communities. In my home state of Pennsylvania there are over 120 mines where coal ash has been dumped and over six million tons of waste are disposed annually in the state's mines. Significant pollution from mine disposal has been documented in New Mexico, West Virginia, Indiana, North Dakota, as well as Pennsylvania."

Aimee Erickson, coordinator, Citizens Coal Council said: "It is time for action! EPA has made no attempt to assess the threat posed by disposal of coal ash in mines, but instead passed the responsibility for regulation to OSM. However, under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the EPA cannot ignore the disposal of millions of tons of toxic waste in mines. Congress required EPA to prohibit open dumping of solid waste. If OSM permits the dumping of coal ash in mines, it will allow the creation of illegal open dumps. We believe that heavy metal pollution at mines in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland constitutes illegal open dumping."

The joint letter calls for common sense safeguards as recommended by the National Academies of Science (NAS). In 2004, Congress directed the National Academies of Science to study the disposal of coal ash in mines. Their March 2006 report, Managing Coal Combustion Residues in Mines, acknowledges the threat to water resources from disposal of waste in mines without adequate safeguards. The report recommends that such safeguards be required in federal regulations. OSM, however, in its March 2007 proposed rule failed to address the explicit recommendations of the National Academies.

The joint letter calls for the OSM to stop approving disposal of toxic waste in mines without considering the risks to human health and the environment. If OSM insists on proposing a rule on coal combustion waste, it must fully consider – and mandate safeguards to prevent – the damage posed by disposing of millions of tons of hazardous chemicals in mines. The groups maintain that the EPA and OSM need to work together to ensure that the disposal of toxic coal ash in mines does not pollute the air and water of coalfield communities with the hazardous chemicals found in the ash.

SOURCE: Environmental Integrity Project