Environmental groups challenge EPA’s coal ash enforcement transfer to Oklahoma

A handful of environmental groups have filed a federal lawsuit against the EPA in an attempt to block the agency from transferring federal oversight of disposal of toxic coal ash in Oklahoma to the state.

The suit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance and Local Environmental Action. Filed in Washington, D.C., the suit contends the Oklahoma program runs directly counter to a federal court appeals court ruling the same groups won that bans unlined toxic coal ash ponds from continuing to operate.

The lawsuit was prompted by an EPA move in June to approve the request by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to take control  of the oversight of the toxic coal ash under the U.S. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

The environmental groups, in their lawsuit,contend the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down key provisions of the federal coal ash program, all of which are included in the Oklahoma program. They contend the Oklahoma program grants coal ash dumps to be permitted “for life”, thus shielding them from new public-health requirements developed in the future by the EPA.

“The State of Oklahoma is in no position, either financially or resource-wise, to take on such a monumental effort as managing coal ash,” claimed Johnson Bridgwater,  Oklahoma Sierra Club Chapter Director. “ODEQ’s budget has been slashed every year the last several years, and they have cut back staffing numbers repeatedly. Neither ODEQ nor any other state agency has a solid track record off managing coal ash, and they are not prepared to add on a new function to their environmental management responsibilities.”

Much the same claim was made by Jennifer Cassel, an attorney with Earthjustice.

“Time and time again, politicians in Oklahoma have chosen to ignore the health and safe of their own citizens,” she said in a statement. “It’s clear we need stronger protections from the hazardous chemicals in coal ash, not weaker ones. EPA’s decision to transfer oversight over Oklahoma’s coal ash dumps to DEQ not only violates the late, it puts Oklahoma families at risk.”

Attorney Kelly Hunter Foster with Waterkeeper Alliance maintained that the transfer of power to DEQ was in essence a move “to contort the law into a liability shield for industry.”

Earl Hatley, the Grand Riverkeeper of LEAD or the Local Environmental Action Demanded, charged that contaminated of ground water in northeast Oklahoma City the Grand River Dam Authority demonstrates the state has been unable to manage coal ash rules.

“EPA is turning its back on Oklahoma,” charged Hatley.