A Loss for Trump -- and for Coal
Cross-posted from LegalPlanet.
Understandably, most of the attention at the beginning of the week was devoted to the rollout of the Trump administration's token effort to regulate greenhouse gases, the ACE rule. But something else happened, too. On Tuesday, a D.C. Circuit ruling ignored objections from the Trump administration and invalidated key parts of a rule dealing with coal ash disposal. That rule had originally come from the Obama administration, and the court agreed with environmentalists that it was too weak. Trump's efforts to weaken it further may have hit a fatal roadblock.
Coal ash is produced in huge quantities by coal-fired power plants. As the opinion describes, it's just chock-full of toxic substances. Traditionally, the industry just dumps it, in dry or wet form, in a pond or reservoir. If it escapes suddenly, it can cause a massive toxic flood; if slowly, it can contaminate groundwater.
The Trump administration asked the court to hold its ruling in abeyance until it could issue a new rule or else remand several aspects of the rule for further consideration. The court did remand some aspects of the rule that industry had not challenged, but not one crucial part of the rule, dealing with "legacy ponds" – that is, sites that are no longer receiving waste. The court agreed with environmentalists that requirements for these legacy sites were too weak. It also rejected industry's claim that EPA lacks authority to
EPA Sends Coal Ash Rule to OIRA
After ringing its hands for nigh on four years, EPA has at last coughed up a final coal ash rule. Of course, no one but the White House staff will know what it says until the White House releases it in absolutely final form. Nevertheless, the staff will now engage in the charade of hosting multiple appearances by various interest groups that want to tell the President’s people about those concerns without really knowing what they should be talking about.
House Votes to Give Coal Ash Dumps a Free Pass; President Stops Short of Veto Threat
The residents of Kingston, Tennessee had no inkling that the Christmas of 2008 would be any different than another year. In the wee morning hours three days before the holiday, an earthen dam holding back a 40-acre surface impoundment at a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) power plant burst, releasing 1 billion gallons of inky coal ash sludge across Kingston, Tennessee. The sludge flood crossed a river, destroying 26 houses. One had a man inside, and was lifted off its foundation and
The Delays Get Delayier: The Sad First Year of EPA's Coal Ash Proposal
Before the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, before the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and before the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, there was the TVA coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee. It was at Kingston, during the early morning hours on December 22, 2008, that an earthen dam holding back a 40-acre surface impoundment burst, releasing one billion gallons of inky sludge. The Kingston coal ash spill taught the American public about the catastrophic costs that can accompany so
Two Years After Tennessee Disaster, U.S. Effort to Prevent the Next Coal Ash Catastrophe Faces Uncertain Future
by Ben Somberg | December 23, 2010
Two years ago this week, an earthen wall holding back a giant coal ash impoundment failed in Kingston, Tennessee, sending more than a billion gallons of coal ash slurry over nearby land and into the Emory River. The ash had chemicals including arsenic, lead, and mercury. Clean up costs could be as much as $1.2 billion. The coal ash issue is not "new" -- toxic chemicals from unlined coal ash pits have been leaching into the ground for a long
Coal Ash Comments Submitted: Get Serious, Please
by Ben Somberg | November 19, 2010
"In order for CBA [cost benefit analysis] to be workable, regulators need to have a relatively restricted range of possibilities." That's what OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein wrote in a 2007 book. So how about from $82 billion to negative $251 billion, a third of a trillion dollars – is that a relatively restricted range? Those are the estimated net benefit figures, over 50 years, in the Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) for EPA's "strong" coal ash regulation proposal. Do those numbers
At Coal Ash Hearing, Poisoned Waters and the "Stigma Effect" on the Agenda
The below is testimony (PDF) given today by CPR President Rena Steinzor at the EPA's public hearing on coal ash regulation. The hearing, in Arlington, VA, is the first of seven; the public comment period has been extended to November 19. See CPR on Twitter for updates from the hearing. We are all familiar with the psychological studies that have become a cottage industry at American universities. Consider this one. A presumably dead cockroach is “medically sterilized”—and I honestly do not know
OIRA's Fuzzy Math on Coal Ash: A Billion Here, a Billion There
This post was written by CPR President Rena Steinzor and Michael Patoka, a student at the University of Maryland School of Law and research assistant to Steinzor. Last October, the EPA proposed to regulate, for the first time, the toxic coal ash that sits in massive landfills and ponds next to coal-fired power plants across the nation. The 140 million tons of ash generated every year threaten to contaminate groundwater and cause catastrophic spills, like the 1-billion-gallon release that devastated
Eye on OIRA: No Room for a More Compassionate CBA in EPA's Coal Ash Rule
“Although the 1976 RCRA [Resource Conservation and Recovery Act] statute does not require benefit-cost justification of RCRA regulations, this RIA [regulatory impact analysis] presents a qualitative benefit analysis for compliance with OMB’s 2003 ‘Circular A-4: Regulatory Analysis’ best practices guidance.” This statement comes from the executive summary to the cost-benefit analysis (CBA) that EPA sent to OIRA last October with its original proposed rule for regulating coal ash waste, and it is without a doubt the most important sentence in the
Coal Ash Announcement Now Scheduled for May?
The EPA had projected an April announcement on the next step in regulating coal ash. But April came and went. The EPA now lists "05/2010" as the projected time for publication of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register.
Eye on OIRA: Is EPA About To Take a U-Turn on Coal Ash?
For the past 6 months, OIRA has hosted an all-out assault on EPA’s proposed coal ash waste rule, as a parade of representatives from King Coal and the coal ash reuse industry have walked in to attack any and every aspect of the hybrid approach the agency reportedly proposed. (Under the hybrid approach, EPA would regulate coal ash waste as a “hazardous” substance, unless it was dedicated to certain forms of beneficial use, in which case it would be regulated
Eye on OIRA: Coal Ash Meetings Up to 42, or More Than Half of All OIRA Meetings on EPA Rules
Fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy have long celebrated the number 42 as the “answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.” Now, the number 42 also happens to be the number of meetings that OIRA has hosted regarding EPA’s pending coal ash rule, as it works toward developing the Obama Administration’s answer to the ultimate question of how to regulate the disposal of this toxic waste. ________________________________________ OIRA Meetings on Coal Ash, as of
The Empire Strikes Back
Ordinarily, if an organization with the word “recycling” in its name said unkind things about the Center for Progressive Reform, I’d worry. But the other week, we got dinged by a newly launched outfit called “Citizens for Recycling First,” and I’m thinking it’s a badge of honor. Before proceeding, let’s dwell for a moment on the mental images the group’s name conjures up. I’m thinking about plastic bins with recycling logos on their sides, filled by conscientious Americans with soup cans, beer
Eye on OIRA: King Coal
Thirty-eight years ago today, the dam holding back a massive coal-slurry impoundment (government-speak for a big pit filled with sludge) located in the middle of Buffalo Creek gave way, spilling 131 million gallons of black wastewater down the steep hills of West Virginia. The black waters eventually crested at 30 feet, washing away people, their houses, and their possessions. By the end of the catastrophe, 125 people were dead, 1,121 were injured, and more than 4,000 were left homeless. Interviewed
Tennessee Coal Ash Cleanup Update: Where On-Target Is Still Depressing News
by Ben Somberg | February 18, 2010
Just to give you an idea of the scope of the situation in Tennessee: More than 3 million cubic yards of coal ash were released into the waterways in the Kingston coal ash disaster in late 2008. This week comes news from cleanup officials that the removal of that waste is 70 percent complete. The EPA's PowerPoint shows that removal of the coal ash from the river is slightly ahead of forecast (slide 16). So, just a half million cubic
EPA's Cooperative Approach on Coal Ash Nets "Action Plans" From Industry -- But Here's What EPA Could Really be Doing With Existing Authority
In 2008 alone, coal-fired power plants produced some 136 million tons of coal ash waste – dangerous stuff, because it contains arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and a host of other toxins that are a significant threat to basic human health. Ironically, coal ash has been growing as a problem in recent years in part because better pollution-control devices capture more toxic contaminants before they go up power plant smokestacks. Last year, around 55 percent of the stuff was piled up in
Eye on OIRA: The 121st Day and Coal Ash Still Going to Pits in the Ground
Tomorrow will be the 120th day since the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) began its review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) star-crossed proposal to declare coal ash that is not safely recycled to be a hazardous waste. The number is significant because it marks the end of OIRA’s allotted review period for the proposal, under the Executive Order that governs OIRA. The date will likely come and go without fanfare. By rights, OIRA ought to
Eye on OIRA: Coal Ash Visits by Regulation Foes Up to 28; OIRA’s Open Door Policy Creates Double Standard for Special Interests, Flouting Obama Ethics Initiatives
According to recent statements from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) press office, Administrator Cass Sunstein and staff are adamantly committed to granting an audience with OIRA senior staff to anyone who asks to see them about anything, and most especially pending health and safety rules. So not only are special interests granted second, third, fourth, and fifth audiences with OIRA staff after far more qualified political appointees and technical experts at agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency