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New EPA rules on coal ash to be enforced by states, citizens

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency released new regulations governing the amount of coal ash plants can release in their operations. Coal ash, as some readers know, is a byproduct of coal combustion that can contain various toxic substances, including mercury, lead and arsenic, and it is often found in groundwater.

Under the new federal rule, which is the first ever to deal with coal ash, groundwater monitoring is supposed to be conducted on coal ash ponds on an ongoing basis. Ponds with excessively high levels of coal ash are to be shut down.  Here in Georgia, over twenty such ponds exist. 

Interestingly, coal ash is quite a useful substance when it comes to making concrete, embankments and roads, and there is significant money to be had in coal ash recycling. This may be the reason that the new regulation does not designate coal ash as a hazardous substance, but rather as a solid waste. The former designation would have resulted in stricter rules, which is what environmentalists were seeking.

Because of the solid waste designation, the federal government is not responsible for enforcing the new regulations. Rather, that will be up to individual states and private citizens. For individual citizens, the way to enforce environmental regulations is through a citizen suit. Not just anybody can bring a citizen suit for the enforcement of environmental law, though. To do so, one must have standing.   

In a future post, we’ll take a closer look at the issue of standing and what Georgia readers need to know about pursuing these cases.

Source:, “First-Ever Federal Coal Ash Rules Disappoint Environmental Groups,” Molly Samuel, Dec. 19, 2014. 

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