EPA to improve coal ash impoundments

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is releasing action plans developed by 15 electric utility facilities with coal ash impoundments. The plans describe the measures the facilities are taking to make their impoundments safer. The action plans are a response to EPA’s final assessment reports on the structural integrity of these impoundments that the agency made public in May 2010.

Since May 2009, EPA has been conducting on-site assessments of coal ash impoundments and ponds at electric utilities. The action plans released on Feb. 11 address recommendations from assessments of 37 impoundments at 15 facilities. Many of these facilities have already begun implementing EPA’s recommendations.

EPA is also releasing assessment reports on the structural integrity of an additional 69 coal ash impoundments at 20 facilities across the country. Of these units, 35 were given a poor rating and none of the units received an unsatisfactory rating, which is the lowest possible EPA rating. The poor ratings were given because these units lacked some of the necessary engineering documentation required in the assessments and not because the units are unsafe. Based on analysis from the engineers who conducted the assessments, the ratings for these units are likely to improve once the proper documentation is submitted.

The assessment reports have been completed by firms, under contract to EPA, who are experts in the field of dam integrity, and reflect the best professional judgment of those engineering firms. EPA is continuing to review the reports and technical recommendations, and is working with the facilities to ensure that the recommendations are implemented in a timely manner.

Last year, EPA completed assessments for 60 impoundments that were considered to have a high risk of causing harm if the impoundment were to fail. The agency is now in the process of evaluating the remaining impoundments.

EPA is also in the process of developing the first-ever national rules to ensure the safe disposal and management of coal ash from coal-fired power plants. The proposed regulations will ensure stronger oversight of the structural integrity of impoundments, and protection of human health and the environment.

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