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The first national regulations to provide for the safe disposal of coal combustion residuals (coal ash) from coal-fired power plants just released, federal regulators said.

The final rule establishes safeguards to protect communities from coal ash impoundment failures, like the catastrophic Kingston, TN, spill in 2008, and establishes safeguards to prevent groundwater contamination and air emissions from coal ash disposal, said Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials.

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“EPA is taking action to protect our communities from the risk of mismanaged coal ash disposal units, and putting in place safeguards to help prevent the next catastrophic coal ash impoundment failure, which can cost millions for local businesses, communities and states,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “These strong safeguards will protect drinking water from contamination, air from coal ash dust, and our communities from structural failures, while providing facilities a practical approach for implementation.”

EPA has been studying the effects of coal ash disposal on the environment and public health for many years. In the wake of the failure of the TVA coal ash pond in Kingston, TN, EPA began a multi-year effort to help ensure the safety of the nation’s coal ash disposal facilities, including assessing more than 500 facilities across the country. Improperly constructed or managed coal ash disposal units ended up linked to nearly 160 cases of harm to surface or ground water or to the air. EPA carefully evaluated more than 450,000 comments on the proposed rule, testimony from eight public hearings, and information gathered from three notices soliciting comment on new data and analyses.

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Improperly constructed or managed coal ash disposal units have resulted in the catastrophic failure of surface impoundments, damages to surface water, groundwater and the air. The first federal requirements for impoundments and landfills to address these risks include:
• The closure of surface impoundments and landfills that fail to meet engineering and structural standards and will no longer receive coal ash
• Reducing the risk of catastrophic failure by requiring regular inspections of the structural safety of surface impoundments
• Restrictions on the location of new surface impoundments and landfills so they cannot end up built in sensitive areas such as wetlands and earthquake zones
• Protecting groundwater by requiring monitoring, immediate cleanup of contamination, and closure of unlined surface impoundments that are polluting groundwater
• Protecting communities using fugitive dust controls to reduce windblown coal ash dust
• Requiring liner barriers for new units and proper closure of surface impoundments and landfills that will no longer receive CCRs

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