After the non-stop coverage of the spill into the Elk River in West Virginia, we are seeing reports of a spill of 82,000 tons of coal ash into a North Carolina river. The subject of coal ash has lain dormant for a while but this Duke Energy spill is like opening an old wound. As our regular readers know, EPA has proposed new rules for coal ash storage in the wake of a Tennessee spill in 2008. There was another spill in Wisconsin in 2011 and the rules languished. Given this week’s coal slurry spill in West Virginia, rivers in the southeast might be feeling like endangered species.
This fall, a citizens suit was filed in West Virginia federal court (unrelated to the Elk River case) and at the end of January, the EPA agreed to issue coal ash rules by December 19th of this year. Whether the rules treat coal ash as a hazardous waste, a non-hazardous waste or some combination of the two, remains to be seen but it appears that some regulation of this reportedly second largest waste stream in the country will be implemented. As I have blogged before, Michigan already has more river-protective regulations than many other states and it is about time that these other states are brought up to a higher standard to prevent these major spills.
We have started to realize just how important our rivers are and whether it’s bad luck or bad stewardship, we appear to be on a path to get the regulations needed to protect them.