Oklahoma DEQ defends transfer of coal ash regulatory power from EPA

While at least one environmental group threatened to file suit against the EPA over transfer of its enforcement of coal ash regulations to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, the DEQ says it’s been operating the program for a number of years.

In response to an inquiry from OK Energy Today, Erin Hatfield, Director of Communications at DEQ said the discussion of the new regulations for coal combustion residential disposal has been ongoing for years. She explained the state’s operation of the enforcement “was deliberate when crafting the state rule to match federal requirements.”

“Having DEQ as the regulatory authority for CCR, rather than EPA, provides distinct advantages to both the citizens of Oklahoma and the regulated community,” said Hatfield. “The federal rule, as previously administered by EPA in its self-implementing form, lacked a mechanism for enforcement.”

She said the only option citizens had to compel compliance was to go to court and file a lawsuit.

“Similarly, adjudication in district court was the only way for a regulated entity to defend itself against claims of non-compliance,” she added. “DEQ has a robust complaints investigation and enforcement process, giving citizens direct access to the regulatory agency.”

Hatfield said the DEQ as the permitting authority will continue to have the ability to review and approve facility design and operations and also conduct routine inspections to compel compliance apart from court.

“DEQ has regulated coal ash in Oklahoma since the mid-1990s, with the exception of when placed in coal mines.  This delegation doesn’t change that.  As such, this effort doesn’t alter DEQ’s current operations.  Further, EPA will continue to have oversight of this program.”

As for the threatened lawsuit by Earthjustice, it has yet to be filed.

“The lawsuit has not yet been filed,” said attorney Jennifer Cassel, Coal Program Project attorney for the group. “I can’t provide more information about the lawsuit right now, as that is all confidential information.”

In her original reaction to the move by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to turn over the coal ash enforcement to the DEQ, Cassel stated, “If anyone believes this decision will protect Oklahoma’s residents from coal ash pollution, then I have some oceanfront property in  the state to sell you.”

She also alleged the DEQ made it clear “It wanted states rules precisely to protect industry from public oversight.”

Hatfield did not respond to the allegation.