Following last month's major coal-ash spill in Harriman, Tennesse, a West Virginia lawmaker has introduced legislation to set federal standards for storing the toxic waste produced by burning coal.
AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, J. Miles Cary/FILE
Introduced in the House by Democrat Nick Rahall, the Coal Ash Reclamation and Environmental Safety Act of 2009 would impose design, engineering, and performance standards on all surface impoundments that are constructed to hold coal ash, a mixture of water and fly ash that contains poisonous elements.
No federal standards currently exist, an absence that Rep. Rahall said in a press release was responsible for the collapse of an impoundment wall that resulted in more than a billion gallons of coal ash slurry spilling over more than 300 acres in Harriman, Tenn.:
"It is impossible to write off the disaster in Tennessee as a freak accident. The absence of national standards for coal ash has resulted in environmental damage and threats to human health throughout the country - not just last month, or last year, but for decades, and as far as we know this may be just the tip of the iceberg," Rahall said.
As the Monitor's Mark Clayton reported last week, there are hundreds of such ponds of coal-ash slurry nationwide. Many are leaching toxic metals into groundwater, and many others have walls that are thought to be degrading.