In recent years, spills and leaks of coal ash have fouled rivers, endangered wildlife and brought national attention to the issue. The Obama-era rule came partially in response to a 2008 disaster in Tennessee when a containment pond ruptured at the Kingston Fossil Plant. More than 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry spilled into nearby rivers and destroyed homes.
In 2104, a broken pipe spilled millions of gallons of liquefied coal ash from a retired power plant into North Carolina’s Dan River. It turned the water into dark sludge and threatened drinking water supplies. The electric utility Duke Energy later agreed to pay a $6 million fine for violating water protection laws during and after the disaster. The spill also spurred passage of a new state law in North Carolina that requires all coal ash storage ponds be closed by 2029.
According to the E.P.A., about 1.1 million Americans live within three miles of a coal plant that discharges pollutants into a public waterway. The 2015 rule set deadlines for power plants to invest in modern wastewater treatment technology to keep toxic pollution out of local waterways. The regulation also required them to monitor local water quality and make more information publicly available. The Obama administration estimated the regulations would stop about 1.4 billion pounds of toxic metals and other pollutants from pouring into rivers and streams.
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