Energy & Environment

Tons Of Coal Waste In Texas But EPA’s New Regulation Lacks Weight

New, controversial federal rules are aimed at reducing the danger from millions of tons of waste generated by power plants.

Texas power plants that burn coal produce 13 million tons of coal ash a year
Texas power plants that burn coal produce 13 million tons of coal ash a year

No state burns more coal to make electricity than Texas. And therefore the state produces some of the nation’s largest amounts of what’s left over: coal ash.

Millions of tons of coal ash end-up in landfills and waste ponds across Texas. Some of the ponds are unlined. The coal ash waste contains toxic metals, like mercury, and the fear is it could leach into groundwater.

New federal rules by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are taking effect. The rules require new ponds be lined and most all such sites to be monitored for leaching. But there has been push-back from Texas and other states, which say the federal rules aren’t needed, because the states already have and enforce their own coal ash rules. But the federal ones are tougher says the EPA’s Betsy Devlin in Washington.

“The minimum national standards in the rule are applicable to all facilities regardless of what the states do. It does not matter for the purposes of the facility whether the state adopts these rules or not,” Devlin told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which held a briefing because it was concerned about the impact the ponds might have if located near low-income, minority communities.  

Devlin says having the states adopt the new, federal rules would make a big difference because Congress, reacting to strong industry opposition, refused to authorize the EPA to enforce the new rules. That puts the onus back on states or on citizens if they want to file lawsuits against industries that refuse to comply.

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Dave Fehling

Director of News and Public Affairs

As Director of News and Public Affairs, Dave Fehling manages the radio news operation at Houston's NPR station. Previously, he was a reporter at the station, covering the oil & gas industry and its impact on the environment. He won top state honors for in-depth and investigative reporting as well...

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