EPA plan allowing unlined coal ash pits puts drinking water at risk

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John Rumpler

Clean Water Director and Senior Attorney, Environment America

Environment America

BOSTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule Wednesday that would allow at least some unlined coal ash ponds to continue operating. The proposal is the administration’s fourth rollback of modest rules adopted in 2015 to protect Americans from this toxic residue.  

John Rumpler, clean water program director for Environment America, made the following statement in response:

“Laced with arsenic, mercury, and radioactive substances, coal ash is dangerous to human health and our environment — especially when it leaks into our water supplies.  And among these toxic waste pits, those without liners are the worst of the worst, lacking even a pretense of preventing leaks into groundwater. Yet EPA would now extend their shelf-life and keep our drinking water sources at risk for years to come.  

“Data released in 2018 confirmed that coal ash ponds are leaking into groundwater across the country. For example, coal waste ponds were implicated in contamination of the Cumberland River in Tennessee, which provides drinking water to one million people.  Our own research confirmed these coal ash ponds as Accidents Waiting to Happen.”

“In the same year, a federal court ruled that EPA’s Obama-era rules were too weak to protect the public from the toxic hazards of unlined coal ash ponds, as required by federal law. But instead of strengthening these rules, the Trump administration is again seeking to weaken them.  

“Maybe a hundred years ago, some might have argued that toxic coal ash was the necessary price for electricity and progress. But as technology has unlocked an abundance of clean, renewable energy, it’s high time we stop putting our drinking water at risk. EPA’s latest coal ash rollback is unlawful, unhealthy, and defies common sense.” 


Environment America is a national network of 29 state environmental groups. Our staff work together for clean air, clean water, clean energy, wildlife and open spaces, and a livable climate. Our members across the United States put grassroots support behind our research and advocacy. Environment America is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to getting things done.

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