The San Juan Generating Station powered New Mexico’s largest cities for 50 years. In Albuquerque and Santa Fe, our electricity use has come at great expense to the people living under the shadow of that plant. The San Juan plant and mine are contaminated. PNM has produced more than 59 million tons of Coal Combustion Residuals, aka coal ash, which has been disposed of in unlined pits. In the 2023 legislative session New Energy Economy worked with grassroots leaders from the impacted community in San Juan to pass HB 142. The law, signed by the Governor on April 5th, commissions an independent assessment for the cleanup of the San Juan Generating Station and Mine, in consultation with the community, in order to ensure that the site will be properly decommissioned and remediated with regulatory oversight.
Given that 92% of coal ash ponds have been found to contaminate adjacent groundwater sources, it is critical that similar legislation and federal regulations are instituted to protect frontline communities across the nation that have borne the brunt of our extractive energy industry.
On May 17th the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new draft Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) Rule that proposes finally beginning to close a loophole that has exempted half of our nation’s coal ash waste from federal regulation. If the rule goes into effect, for the first time in history, hundreds of older coal ash landfills, legacy ponds, and fill sites nationwide will now be subject to groundwater monitoring, closure, and cleanup.
It’s a big step forward, as the EPA is ratcheting down the huge gap in the 2015 rule, which left half of the coal ash in the US unregulated. There are problems, however, and more exemptions and omissions that our friends at Earthjustice are seeking to fix.
• The draft rule extends federal safeguards to many legacy ash ponds and inactive landfills. The new rule would address much of the coal ash disposed at retired power plants. The rule would extend monitoring, closure, and cleanup requirements to hundreds of previously excluded older landfills and legacy ponds.
•. The draft rule requires more effective coal plant cleanups at active coal plants. Many coal plant owners are evading the 2015 rule’s cleanup requirements almost entirely by blaming unregulated ash dumps at their power plants for any pollution they detect. As a result of utilities gaming the system, groundwater remains contaminated by toxic ash at plants across the country. The EPA would end this ruse by requiring owners to monitor and clean up all coal ash disposed at a given coal plant, rather than requiring cleanup for some dumps but not others.
• Compliance deadlines are expedited when compared to the 2015 rule. In its proposal, EPA acknowledges the need for utilities to move faster to clean up groundwater contamination and close dangerous dumpsites.
• The proposed rule does not extend safeguards to all leaking coal ash dump sites at former coal plants. Many ponds that no longer contain water and many old ash landfills continue to be excluded from federal regulation.
• The proposed rule does not sufficiently address coal ash ponds and landfills in floodplains.
• The proposed rule will be difficult to enforce. Given the widespread noncompliance of utilities with the 2015 rule, new requirements must be written with greater clarity and transparency so that industry noncompliance will be immediately detected and actionable by both EPA and affected communities.
•. The proposed rule does not address coal ash that was used as offsite construction fill at locations such as playgrounds, schools, and residential neighborhoods.
The EPA needs to complete the job to include all toxic coal ash sites across the country and commit to enforcement, regardless of where or when they were created.
The EPA is holding a 60-day public comment period. From now until July 17th, this is our collective moment to demand that ALL coal ash dumps are cleaned up and ensure every community that has borne the brunt of the coal powered energy we have benefited from for decades is protected under federal rule.
THEN TAKE ACTION TO PROTECT FRONTLINE COMMUNITIES
In-person public hearing: June 28 in Chicago Register here
Virtual public hearing on July 12. Register here
Send your written public comments by July 17.