EPA names locations of hazardous coal-ash piles

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency disclosed the locations of 44 "high-hazard" coal-ash piles in 10 states on Monday, after previously saying they were keeping the locations secret to prevent them from becoming targets of terrorism.

There are seven in Kentucky, all located at the same power plants identified in December by Kentucky environmental regulators, including a LG&E's Cane Run plant in southwestern Louisville. Other states with high-hazard ash impoundments are Arizona, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Montana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, according to the EPA.

EPA officials said the rating is based on the potential for disaster should they fail and is not an indication of the structural integrity of the impoundment.

Coal-ash safety became a national concern in December, after a 5.4 million-cubic-yard ash pile at a Tennessee Valley Authority plant near Knoxville, Tenn., collapsed, covering several hundred acres, damaging numerous homes and properties, and polluting a tributary of the Tennessee River. The cleanup cost is estimated at nearly $1 billion.

Regulation of the impoundments is largely left to individual states.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, were among congressional leaders who urged the EPA to make the list public on June 12. Yarmuth said then that it was hard for him to imagine ash ponds being at the top of terrorists' targets, and that disclosure would hasten efforts to make sure they were safe.

"The public has a right to know if a coal-ash waste impoundment is located in their neighborhood," Yarmuth said Monday. "I am glad the EPA did the right thing by releasing this list so that federal officials can more easily work together with state and local authorities to ensure that protections are in place for families living near these impoundments."

Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the reason she called on the Obama administration on June 12 to release the list was "so that people have the information they need to quickly press for action to make these sites safer."

EPA spokesman Tisha Petteway said the EPA made the decision after completing a review of security concerns and consultation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"The presence of liquid coal-ash impoundments near our homes, schools and businesses could pose a serious risk to life and property in the event of an impoundment rupture" said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. "By compiling a list of these facilities, EPA will be better able to identify and reduce potential risks by working with states and local emergency responders."

EPA officials said the list is part of their review of several hundred coal-ash impoundments across the nation.

Gene Pawlik, a spokesman for the Army Corps, said his agency's earlier recommendation against making the list public was based on how the corps deals with "traditional dams" and that "these are not really traditional facilities." He said the corps is now OK with making the list public.

The high-hazard impoundments in Kentucky are at four power plants, according to the EPA: Kentucky Power's Big Sandy Plant in Lawrence County; Kentucky Utilities' E.W. Brown Generating Station in Mercer County and Ghent Generating Station in Carroll County; and LG&E's Cane Run Generating Station in Jefferson County.

Officials with E.ON U.S., parent of LG&E and Kentucky Utilities, did not return telephone calls Monday afternoon. They previously have said they regularly inspect their ash impoundments for safety.