EPA Requires Facilities to Review Integrity of Coal Ash Management Units

In response to last year’s massive coal ash spill at a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) facility in Kingston, Tenn., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week ordered electric utilities with surface impoundments containing coal combustion residuals to review the structural integrity of those units and respond to agency questions about their condition. 

In letters sent to facilities (PDF) and owner companies (PDF), the EPA gave utilities 10 days from date of receipt to respond to 10 questions, including when the unit was commissioned, when and by whom it was last assessed/inspected, and whether or not it was designed by a professional engineer. The information request also asks utilities to rate the unit’s hazard potential in accordance with National Inventory Dams criteria.

There may be as many as 300 coal waste impoundments, the agency said. It added that the “information requests are legally enforceable and must be responded to fully.”

In a release Monday, the EPA said that it would work closely with other federal agencies and states to review the information provided by the facilities. It said it would also visit many of these facilities to see first-hand that the management units are structurally sound. If a facility is found to pose a risk for “potential failure,” the agency said it will require “additional remedial action.” The assessment of analysis of such units will eventually be compiled in a report and made available to the public.

The EPA also said that it was developing regulations to address the management of coal combustion residuals, and that it should have a proposed rule ready for public comment by the end of the year.

“Environmental disasters like the one last December in Kingston should never happen anywhere in this country,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “That is why we are announcing several actions to help us properly protect the families who live near these facilities and the places where they live, work, play and learn.”

The December 2008 release of 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash from TVA’s Kingston, Tenn., facility flooded more than 300 acres of land, damaging homes and property. No injuries were reported, but according to the EPA, coal ash from the release flowed into the Emory and Clinch Rivers, filling large areas of the rivers and killing fish.

TVA cost estimates (PDF) for the clean-up range between $525 million and $825 million, depending on the method of ash disposal that is assumed. The range does not include costs for items such as regulatory actions, litigation, or long-term environmental remediation.

Sources: EPA, TVA

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