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Aerial View of Large Coal Fired Power Plant

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WASHINGTON — The EPA drafted a new change to a rule that would close a loophole and clean up coal ash waste that is polluting Indiana.

The proposed change is for the Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) rule. Currently, a loophole allows utility companies to not clean up legacy coal ash ponds.

Legacy landfills are any stockpiles that were made before 2015 of coal waste used by utility companies to generate electricity. These are unlined tons of coal ash that are not active, but still leak hazardous chemicals into the ground and water.

“The new proposed rule would in fact cover many of those sites. Including a site on Lake Michigan where there’s very little protecting the coal ash from going into the lake.” said Sam Carpenter, Executive Director of the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC).

The site Carpenter is referencing is NIPSCO’s Michigan City Generating Station, where the HEC estimates 2 million cubic yards are filled with coal ash. With rising lake levels and severe storms hitting Indiana, the site poses a threat as only a 70-year-old sea wall separates the coal ash from Lake Michigan.

Indiana has 100 coal ash dumps, more than any other state in the country, and at least 49 are unregulated says the HEC.

“There’s mercury, arsenic, and other heavy metals that leach out of coal ash,” Carpenter said, “That can get into our fish and also into the groundwater which supplies our drinking water.”

Federal regulation may be the only way that legacy coal ash ponds are cleaned up in the state.

“This is really important in Indiana, because the state has limited – through the state legislature and general assembly – IDEM’s ability to protect Hoosiers from the toxic metals that go into our drinking water through the coal ash ponds,” said Carpenter.

Indra Frank Director of Environmental Health and Water Policy at the HEC said in a press release, “We have worked for years to get safer coal ash disposal via state policy, but our efforts were blocked since the majority in Indiana’s General Assembly insist on limiting state environmental standards to no more than what is required federally. In Indiana, safe coal ash disposal depends on a strong federal rule.”

“I think this is a step forward,” said Carpenter, “Certainly we appreciate the EPA is showing some leadership on this. There’s more to do.”

A 60-day commenting period for the EPA’s proposed rule change starts May 18 and ends July 17. A final ruling is expected May 2024.