UPDATE - EPA not to classify coal waste as hazardous
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday that it will not classify wastes from coal burning plants as hazardous, but will develop national standards to address the health and environmental impacts caused by toxic metals contained in the wastes.
In a statement, the EPA said it acted after a federal court declined to grant an extension for the agency to determine how to classify wastes from coal plants that are land disposed or used as fill in mining.
Combustion waste is currently exempted from federal regulation, but the EPA is concerned about toxic metals and what happens when the substances are improperly disposed, threatening public health and the environment.
"EPAs goal is to ensure that these wastes dont contaminate ground water, a source of drinking water for more than half the U.S. population, or contaminate rivers, lakes and streams," the agency said.
EPA said it wants the states and industry to take steps to protect the environment, notably against utilities that burn fossil fuels and generate fly ash and bottom ash.
"If the states and industry do not take steps to address these wastes adequately in a reasonable amount of time, or if EPA identifies additional risks to public health, EPA will revisit this decision to determine whether a hazardous waste approach is needed," said EPA Acting Deputy Administrator Michael McCabe.
A statement from the Edison Electric Institute, the trade group for investor-owned utilities, welcomed the EPAs decision.
"This is a sound decision supported by scientific record," said Paul Bailey, EEI vice president for the environment. "We are gratified that EPA adhered to the findings of its report to Congress and issued a decision that will promote continued improvements in coal waste management practices without imposing costly and duplicative regulation on utilities and the states."
The regulation announced will set standards under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act authority for nonhazardous wastes. EPA said its decision will also identify safe reuse of the materials that do not warrant EPA regulation, like those used in the construction industry.
Story by Patrick Connole
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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