Wisconsin Town Legally Prevented From Tightening Coal Ash Regulations

The Kingston, TN coal ash site after the December 2008 TVA spill.

The EPA is still deciding how to regulate coal ash, and a bill in Congress would prevent the EPA from regulating it at all. Here's a hint of what happens with weak regulations—in this case, a town is prevented from creating regulations stricter than what the state has decided is sufficient:

Last year, the Wisconsin town of Wilson instituted tighter environmental regulations on a landfill that stored Alliant Energy's coal ash. The town board was responding to residents who had concerns that contaminants from the landfill, which can include toxic metals like arsenic, mercury, and chromium, and a long list of other substances, were leaching into local supplies of drinking water.

What the Rules Would Have Done
The new requirements involved testing drinking water wells in a wider area around the landfill, and giving the town authority to obtain samples from test wells for independent analysis (rather than relying on Alliant for test results), with Alliant reimbursing the town for testing expenses.

Town Prevented From Protecting Itself
Alliant Energy sued, saying Wilson had no authority to issue those new requirements—and last week, the judge agreed. The Sheboygan Press reports the judge ruled that by creating the tighter regulations, Wilson overstepped its authority.

The judge said that under state law, municipalities and residents can petition the state Department of Natural Resources regarding their concerns with coal ash landfills, but local governments cannot create their own landfill regulations.

More from The Sheboygan Press:

[Judge] Bolgert’s ruling means the new requirements are void, but a previously agreed-upon conditional use permit — first issued in 1983 — remains in effect as an “equitable consideration.”

“Overall, we’re pleased with the judge’s decision. He confirmed our belief that the town went beyond its authority,” said Steve Schultz, an Alliant spokesman.

Wisconsin Town Legally Prevented From Tightening Coal Ash Regulations
A town is prevented from creating regulations stricter than the state's rules, despite residents' concerns about groundwater contamination.

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