Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is calling on U.S. EPA to reveal the confidential locations of dozens of coal ash impoundment sites considered dangerous.
Speaking with reporters this morning, Boxer said EPA has determined that at least 44 of the hundreds of coal ash piles identified across the country pose a "high hazard," meaning they could threaten human life if they fail -- like an impoundment that collapsed at a Tennessee Valley Authority facility late last year. The agency collected the information on the locations from the utility companies that operate the ash disposal sites.
Boxer said EPA is notifying and working with first responders this week while conducting evaluations at the sites to determine whether there is an imminent threat of failure.
But Boxer said EPA told her the agency could not reveal the location of these 44 sites, due to concerns from the Department of Homeland Security and the Army Corps of Engineers about national security, a decision Boxer finds unsettling.
"If these sites are so hazardous, and if the neighborhoods nearby could be harmed irreparably, then I believe it is essential to let people know," she said. "I think secrecy might lead to inaction."
Boxer and her committee staff have been informed of the locations of the sites, and she was permitted to inform only the senators whose states have the high hazard sites about their locations, she said.
She told reporters she is sending a letter to EPA, DHS, and the Army Corps today asking whether the public disclosure of the hazardous coal ash waste sites is consistent with the treatment of other hazardous sites, noting that locations of Superfund sites, power plants and other sites are common knowledge.
"There's really no need to do this," Boxer said, pledging to hold more committee hearings on coal ash.
Concern about the threat of another coal ash accident has been mounting since last year's TVA spill, in which a retention pond at the power utility's Kingston Fossil Plant collapsed and loosed 1.1 billion gallons of ash and sludge over Roane County, Tenn.
The spill is expected to cost more than $1 billion to clean up and has prompted a renewed call for tougher regulations on coal ash impoundments.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said the agency will propose coal ash regulations by the end of the year and will determine whether to reclassify byproducts of coal combustion as hazardous waste.
Boxer dismissed suggestions that there may be a need for a bill to mandate tougher regulations on coal ash storage, because she was confident EPA would do it on its own.
"They don't need legislation if they do their job," she said.