Sen. Benjamin Cardin of Maryland is asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review, inspect and regulate coal ash impoundments from all coal-burning plants in the country, instead of just those run by utilities. Cardin’s request is fueled by last week’s coal ash leak at New Page Corporation, a Maryland paper mill, that spilled 4,000 gallons of toxic coal ash into the Potomac River.
The spill caught the attention of lawmakers and environmentalists alike, who are debating how such coal ash ponds should be regulated by the government after the disastrous coal ash spill at a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) plant in Kingston, Tennessee last December. That spill dumped more than a billion gallons of the toxic sludge onto a rural neighborhood, destroying homes and damaging property in its wake.
The TVA continues to clean up that mess, which could cost the utility between $525 million and $825 million. The effects on wildlife and humans are yet to be played. Coal ash may contain high concentrations of selenium, sulfate, arsenic, iron and manganese which can lead to serious health problems such as cancer, liver damage and neurological complications.
Environmental activists and lawmakers are pushing the government to step up regulation of coal ash plants. In a letter to the Cumberland Times-News, Joy M. Oakes with the National Parks Conservation Association in Arlington, Virginia wrote, “There are about 300 coal waste storage sites in the U.S., many much larger than the ones operated by the New Page Corporation, which currently are not subject to any meaningful federal regulation. New regulations to manage coal waste must avert risks to our health, and the health of our national parks, so that our children and our grandchildren may continue to enjoy these treasured places.”