In a disappointment to environmentalists, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued rules on Friday labeling coal ash, a byproduct of coal-based power production containing toxic materials such as arsenic and lead, as non-hazardous waste.
The label means that states and environmental groups taking legal action, and not the EPA, will be the primary enforcers of the first-ever federal rules targeting coal ash, which will require the closure of some coal ash holding ponds leaking contaminants into surrounding water but will not cover others.
Also critical of the new rules were some Republican lawmakers, who said they will prove harmful to the economy.
"This rule is a huge step forward in our effort to protect communities from coal ash storage impoundment failures as well as the improper management and disposal of coal ash in general," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters.
The agency first proposed rules governing coal ash storage in 2010, in the wake of a massive spill at a ruptured holding pond in Tennessee that has cost more than $1 billion to clean up. The process took on renewed urgency with another large-scale breach at a pond in North Carolina in February.
Environmental groups expressed disappointment with the long-anticipated rules, which do not require the phase-out of all the hundreds of existing holding ponds and do not prohibit new coal ash from being disposed of in them.
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