Emergency Action Planning



Dam Owner Responsibilities

Dam Owner Responsibilities

Coal Ash Dam Regulations

Coal ash dams in Kentucky are not required to have Emergency Action Plans. Many coal ash dams in Kentucky are HHP, as documented in recent years by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the 2011 "State of Failure" report by Earthjustice and the Appalachian Mountain Advocates. That report states that Kentucky ranks fifth in the nation in the production of coal ash, adding more than 9 million tons annually.

The report states that Kentucky has 43 operating coal ash ponds – 21 of which exceed a height of 25 feet or impound more than 500 acre-feet of ash. Kentucky has the third largest coal ash storage capacity (more than 64,000 acre-feet) in the nation. Eight of these dams are HHP.

"It should concern Kentucky residents that professional engineers did not design 20 of the state's 43 dams nor did they construct 27 of them. Only 15 of Kentucky's dams have been inspected by the EPA to date, and, by admission of the power plant owners, engineers do not presently monitor 30 of the 43 dams," the report says.

"State oversight of the coal ash dams is also minimal. There are no regular reporting requirements after construction, except for certificate renewal every five years. Operators are not given an inspection frequency and are not required to post a bond to ensure safe operation and maintenance or even completion of dam construction.

"Kentucky does not require emergency action planning or inundation mapping, which is astounding given the presence of eight high hazard dams that are likely to take human lives if they break and six significant hazard dams that would cause substantial economic and/or environmental damage in the event of failure.

"Groundwater contamination from coal ash dumping has been documented at four sites in Kentucky. Many more sites are likely contaminated but not detected, because the state does not require composite liners at all ponds and landfills nor does the state prohibit dumping directly into the water table. Yet because Kentucky regulations do not require groundwater monitoring at all coal ash dump sites, the extent of the contamination is largely unknown. We do know, however, that by the EPA's calculation, 100 percent of the toxic chemical releases to land of arsenic, chromium and mercury in Kentucky come from disposal of coal ash in landfills and ponds.)

State Response

In response when the State of Failure report was issued in 2011, R. Bruce Scott, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection, said monitoring has shown some elevated levels of contaminants near ash ponds, on the same property as the ponds. However, the department has not seen cases of chemicals from ash ponds contaminating public water supplies or private wells, Scott said. There is no evidence that pollutants from ash ponds are hurting the health of Kentuckians, Scott said.

Many environmental groups want the federal government to classify the ash as hazardous waste and put heightened federal controls in place. However, states favor an approach that would develop better standards on regulating coal ash without classifying it as hazardous, Scott said.

That approach would not jeopardize efforts to put coal ash to beneficial uses, such as using it to make construction materials, Scott said.

Coal Mining Permits Issued

The Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection (DEP) Division of Water (DOW) issues general permits for storm water discharges associated with construction activity and for wastewater discharges associated with coal mining activities within Kentucky. The storm water general permit requires all construction site operators engaged in clearing, grading and excavating activities that disturb one acre or more of land to obtain permit coverage under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) for their construction storm water discharges. Conditions of the permit include compliance with approved erosion/sediment control and storm water management plans, self-monitoring and record keeping.

The storm water permits are implemented based on best management practices (BMPs) such as diversion, detention, erosion control, sediment traps, gravel construction entrances, covered storage, spill response, stream buffer zones and good housekeeping. Permit holders are required to conduct inspections weekly and the day after any rainfall event resulting in runoff. They must also maintain on-site copies of written inspection reports and any associated enforcement actions.

Persons seeking storm water general permit coverage must file a Notice of Intent (NOI) to discharge either electronically or on paper. NOIs submitted electronically will be processed within seven days of receipt and paper NOIs within 30 days.

The coal general permit authorizes discharges from coal-mining activities. The permit protects waters of Kentucky by requiring technology and water-quality-based effluent limitations and other protective practices, such as the implementation of a BMP plan. The division coordinated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the development of this permit to address actions related to coal mining taken at the federal level.

The coal general permit is not available to those intending to discharge to waters that are impaired by contaminants related to coal mining, for mines discharging within five miles upstream of a public water supply, or for discharges to publicly owned lakes, outstanding state resource waters, outstanding national resource waters or waters classified as cold-water aquatic habitats. An individual Kentucky Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit must be applied for in those situations.