Fifty-four coal-burning power plants on drawing boards across the United States would produce nearly 18 million tons of waste each year, including toxic metals, according to a new analysis by the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council.
Nearly 130 million tons of coal waste from existing plants already is being produced annually, most of which is disposed of in largely unregulated landfills, ponds and other locations, posing public health and environmental risks, the group warns.
Concern about coal waste arose after December 22, 2008, when a coal ash containment dike failed at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant releasing about 5.4 million cubic yards of ashy sludge over nearly 400 acres. TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant is located on the Emory River portion of Watts Bar Reservoir, close to where the Clinch and Tennessee Rivers meet near Kingston, Tennessee.
Several dozen homes were damaged, and the TVA has worked with more than 600 families so far on questions, concerns, and property damage claims. "Coal waste poses a large and unnecessary risk to people's health and the environment, and we need to act before another Kingston disaster strikes," said NRDC Executive Director Peter Lehner. "The EPA took a big step forward by announcing it will regulate coal ash, but they need to quickly examine how coal waste is handled and ensure proper management and disposal are in place at all new plants."
Ash, a by-product of coal-fired power plants, is often stored on-site in containment areas. Many states allow coal waste to be dumped into poorly constructed landfills, ponds and old mines from which it can seep into groundwater, the NRDC warns.
The 15 states that would be the biggest polluters, which the environmental group has dubbed the "Filthy 15," have proposals for 54 coal plants that would create nearly 14 million tons of coal waste.
"There are cleaner, safer and more sustainable energy choices available," said Lehner. "America should be moving toward energy efficiency and renewable energy sources that will drive our economic recovery and meet the challenges of the 21st Century."
In conjunction with the new analysis, NRDC has a new website that includes a state-by-state breakdown of the total amount annually of waste, including toxic metals, from existing and proposed plants.
Click here for NRDC's complete list of states and national data.