Legal Questions Over Use of Coal Ash to Fill Abandoned Mines in Pennsylvania


Image: joost j. bakker via flickr

Still waiting for the opportunity to report some good news on coal ash, but unfortunately, that's not today. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has sent a letter to the Pennsylvania State Auditor complaining about the disposal of toxic coal ash into abandoned mines, causing water pollution and toxic vapors, all under the category of "beneficial use."A press release from PEER said it is "targeting the principal report used to win state regulatory approval by minimizing concerns about using coal ash as mine fill - The Use of Dredged Materials in Abandoned Mine Reclamation based on the Bark Camp Demonstration Project."

According to the coalition, hydro-geologic expert Robert Gadinski filed a formal complaint in April 2008 about the report author's lack of qualifications, yet to this day has received no response. Gadinski's detailed critique of the Bark Camp report includes: "High prospects of groundwater pollution, as well as contamination of connected surface waters; generation of toxic vapors in mine shafts; and underground combustion of coal ash wastes."

Today, PEER requested that the state Auditor General conduct a "performance audit" on both the Department of State for failure to enforce licensure laws and on the DEP for issuing reclamation permits on the basis of illegitimate and unreliable information amassed from an individual unauthorized to practice geology, despite documented pollution and public health concerns.

This problem is notable not least because as we approach the second anniversary of the TVA spill in Kingston, Tennessee, regulation of the material is not any better than it was when 2.6 million cubic yards spilled from a holding pond, contaminating hundreds of acres of land, with few consequences (so far) for the company.

The EPA is only thinking about labeling it hazardous waste, which will be a huge step in the right direction, but until then, coal ash is still used for myriad purposes that are likely dangerous for environmental and human health, but which the industry is still allowed to label as beneficial use.

Beneficial for the industry, maybe.

PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said, "Filling coal mines with coal ash is akin to letting nuclear reactors throw their spent fuel rods down abandoned uranium mines and calling it a beneficial use."

Interested in learning more about the effects of coal ash? Check out another project I'm working on.
More on coal ash
Two Years After the Tennessee Spill, Coal Ash Still Pollutes Nationwide
600 Coal Ash Dump Sites Found in 35 States: Is There One Near You?
EPA Claiming Coal Ash Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Tags: Coal | Pennsylvania | Pollution | Toxins | Waste