EPA Proposes to Deny Alabama Power’s Unsafe Coal-Ash Program, Opening Door for Public Comments

Mobile, AL (August 3) – In a landmark development today, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed denial of Alabama’s coal ash program, written and overseen by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), finding that ADEM’s plan is not compliant with federal law.

If the EPA’s proposed denial becomes final, ADEM will not have the authority to operate a regulatory program under federal coal-ash rules. Alabama Power has consistently argued the ADEM permits they’ve received for closure of their coal ash pits indicate their disposal plans are safe, but a denial by the EPA would mean these permits do not meet federal coal-ash standards. 

The marks the EPA’s first proposed denial of a state coal ash permit program.

“Alabama Power has leaned on ADEM permits to claim their disposal plans are compliant, but EPA’s denial would negate that justification,” said Cade Kistler of Mobile Baykeeper. “Now it’s time for ADEM to follow our Southeastern neighbors and enforce a protective permitting program that stops coal ash pollution into our rivers from sites like Plant Barry and protects Alabamians, and our wildlife, and waterways.”  

“Exposure to coal ash can lead to serious health concerns like cancer if the ash isn’t managed appropriately,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in the statement. “Low-income and underserved communities are especially vulnerable to coal ash in waterways, groundwater, drinking water, and in the air. This is why EPA works closely with states to ensure coal ash is disposed of safely, so that water sources remain free of this pollution and communities are protected from contamination.”

The announcement opens a 60-day public comment period that will allow Alabama citizens to voice support for proper coal ash management.

In September 2022, the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Mobile Baykeeper, filed a lawsuit against Alabama Power in The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama challenging the closure of the Plant Barry coal ash pit.

The lawsuit, which is currently pending, argues that Alabama Power’s plan to cap in place more than 21 million tons of toxic coal ash along the banks of the Mobile River would “leach pollutants into public waters of the United States and of Alabama indefinitely,” and would be in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, along with the federal coal-ash rules enacted in 2015. Under the federal regulations, surface impoundments cannot be closed if, once closure is complete, the coal ash continues to be saturated by groundwater.

In March 2023, the EPA issued a Notice of Potential Violation to Alabama Power for its storage of coal-ash at Plant Barry, stating that the power utility had “potentially violated” federal standards. 

Across the Southeast, more than 250 million tons of hazardous coal ash are being excavated from unlined pits near waterways. The excavated ash is being recycled or safely disposed of in modern, lined landfills away from rivers. Alabama Power’s sister company Georgia Power is recycling and properly disposing of more than 65 million tons of ash. It is critical the state of Alabama implements similar safeguards.

The EPA proposed denial opens a public comment period, including  an upcoming hearing on September 20 in Montgomery (see details below). Concerned citizens will have the opportunity to submit comments in support of the EPA decision to compel the state of Alabama to reform its coal ash program. A virtual hearing is scheduled for September 27. Details on the comment process are forthcoming.

With the support of engaged Alabamians and the EPA’s firm stance, Mobile Baykeeper remains hopeful Alabama will adopt a permitting program that prioritizes the protection of both citizens and ecosystems in Alabama.

In its statement today, the EPA said that if there are any immediate threats to human health or the environment posed by coal ash facilities (whether unpermitted or currently permitted by the state), the agency will consider using all available authorities, including enforcement and response authorities provided under federal law.

You can read the EPA’s full statement here.

In-Person Public Hearing Details 

Date: September 20, 2023 

Time: 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (Central Time) 

Location: Montgomery, Alabama 

Registration: Register for this public hearing

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