Coal Ash

Coal ash is a byprod­uct of burn­ing coal, and includes tox­ic chromi­um, arsenic, lead, alu­minum, boron, iron, sul­fate, sele­ni­um and man­ganese. Coal ash is dan­ger­ous to human health, con­tribut­ing to can­cer, car­dio­vas­cu­lar effects and neu­ro­log­i­cal effects, and can also pose a threat to the health of wildlife and plants. 

Pow­er plants typ­i­cal­ly dis­pose of coal ash in sur­face impound­ments, often unlined, which leak into sur­round­ing soil, ground­wa­ter and sur­face water. The waste­water that coal plants dis­charge can also include tox­ic met­als that, if uncon­trolled, can harm the qual­i­ty of the receiv­ing waters, con­t­a­m­i­nate drink­ing water and con­cen­trate in fish. More infor­ma­tion about lit­i­ga­tion involv­ing the dis­charge of coal ash from impound­ments that then reach pro­tect­ed waters under the Clean Water Act (CWA) is avail­able here (“Point Source Dis­charges Through Direct Connections”).

In 2015, the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) estab­lished efflu­ent lim­i­ta­tion guide­lines for coal plants under the CWA that set the first fed­er­al lim­its on the lev­els of tox­ic met­als in waste­water that can be dis­charged from coal plants into pro­tect­ed, juris­dic­tion­al waters under the CWA.


  • Novem­ber 2019

    In Novem­ber 2019, the EPA released a pro­posed rule that would weak­en the 2015 rule by estab­lish­ing new sub­cat­e­gories of coal plants that are sub­ject to less strin­gent efflu­ent lim­its on dis­charges of coal ash. The pro­pos­al would estab­lish a more lenient efflu­ent lim­i­ta­tion for boil­ers slat­ed to retire by the end of 2028 and low uti­liza­tion” boilers.

  • Jan­u­ary 2020

    In Jan­u­ary 2020, Mary­land Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bri­an Frosh led a coali­tion of five attor­neys gen­er­al in sub­mit­ting com­ments in oppo­si­tion to the EPA’s Novem­ber 2019 pro­posed weak­en­ing of the 2015 rule (“ELG Pro­pos­al”) and a relat­ed pro­pos­al to weak­en to reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing the dis­pos­al of coal ash under the Resource Con­ser­va­tion and Recov­ery Act (“Coal Ash Pro­pos­al”). More infor­ma­tion about the oppo­si­tion by the attor­neys gen­er­al to the Coal Ash Pro­pos­al is avail­able here.

    The attor­neys gen­er­al not­ed that the cre­ation of the new sub­cat­e­gories for coal plants with weak­ened efflu­ent lim­i­ta­tion guide­lines is arbi­trary and capri­cious in vio­la­tion of the Admin­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Act (APA). The pro­pos­al does not pro­vide any evi­dence to sup­port weak­en­ing the efflu­ent lim­i­ta­tion for boil­ers slat­ed to retire by the end of 2028 and low uti­liza­tion” boilers.

  • Octo­ber 2020

    In Octo­ber 2020, the EPA ignored the com­ments of the attor­neys gen­er­al in pub­lish­ing its final rule weak­en­ing the 2015 efflu­ent lim­i­ta­tion guide­lines and extend­ing the retire­ment dead­lines for cer­tain types of boil­ers at the expense of human health and the environment.