The Environmental Protection Agency is taking its first major action to address toxic wastewater from coal-burning power plants, ordering utilities to stop dumping waste into unlined storage ponds and speed up plans to close leaking or otherwise dangerous coal ash sites.
Plants in four states will have to close the coal ash ponds months or years ahead of schedule, the EPA said Tuesday, citing deficiencies with groundwater monitoring, cleanup or other problems.
Coal ash, the substance that remains when coal is burned to generate electricity, contains a toxic mix of mercury, cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals. It can pollute waterways, poison wildlife and cause respiratory illness among those living near massive ponds where the waste is stored.
The actions mark the first time the EPA has enforced a 2015 rule aimed at reducing groundwater pollution from coal-fired power plants that has contaminated streams, lakes and underground aquifers.