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Enforcing the coal ash rule: work with experienced attorney to determine process

In recent posts, we’ve been looking at the topic of coal ash disposal and the potential threat to local environments and populations that can result from failure to abide by federal regulations. The federal coal ash rule establishes specific requirements landfills and surface impoundments, including things like: groundwater monitoring; liner requirements; contamination cleanup; closure of unlined surface impoundments; and restricting the location of new impoundments and landfills.

Federal law also establishes structural integrity requirements to protect against surface water contamination, requires assessments to protect against surface impoundment failure, and requires landfill and surface impoundment operators to develop plans to control against fugitive dust. There are other requirements as well.  

The federal coal ash rule is unique among environmental regulations in that the EPA is not actually responsible for enforcing the rule. The rule is considered to be self-implementing and is enforced by the states and individual citizens. States may enforce the rule by incorporating it into state law. States may choose to do so by revising existing legislation or regulations, or through the permitting process.

Citizens who have been affected or who stand to be affected by the violation of the coal ash rule do have the right to enforce the law, depending on how their state has addressed enforcement, but doing so requires the assistance of an experienced attorney who knows how to navigate the process. This is especially true given that the coal ash rule is relatively new and this process is still being worked out.


EPA, “Frequent Questions about the Coal Ash Disposal Rule,” Accessed July 6, 2016.

American Bar Association, “EPA’s coal ash rule relies on unique enforcement framework,” Steven A. Burns & David W. Mitchell, March/April 2015. 

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