A new report recently released by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) Dump Now, Pay Later: Coal Ash Disposal Risk for the U.S. Electric Power Sector concludes that investors may be liable for cleanup and litigation costs associated with certain coal ash ponds. RAN suggests that forthcoming EPA regulations may require closure of coal ash ponds lacking a bottom lining at an estimated cost ranging from $1M to potentially over $100M per pond. RAN notes that coal ash ponds and landfills also have prompted environmental groups and plaintiffs' firms to file lawsuits on behalf of residents near coal ash sites.
According to RAN, unlined coal ash ponds and landfills can leach contamination into groundwater for decades, leaving investors in publicly traded electric power producers potentially exposed to litigation risks. And forthcoming EPA coal ash disposal regulations may force power plant operators to incur substantial compliance costs and potentially shutter several coal-fired power plants.
Coal ash (also known as coal combustion residuals or coal combustion byproducts) is the solid waste that is produced when coal is burned. Coal-fired power plants generate both fly ash, the fine particles filtered from smokestacks, and bottom ash, the larger particles that fall to the bottom of coal furnaces. Coal ash waste streams often are recycled into components of concrete and other building materials, but the remainder is disposed of in landfills or mixed with power plant wastewater for storage as slurry in a holding pond. According to the EPA, there are over 2,000 coal ash holding ponds and landfills in the U.S.
In more news impacting the coal industry, the World Bank Group (WBG) announced this week that it will only give out loans for coal power plants in the rarest of circumstances. The WBG now prefers to fund renewable energy sources that may cost more but protect the environment. Poor developing nations look to the WBG to finance new power plants and energy projects which investments total about $8B annually. The WBG Board this month adopted a new report confirming the bank's goal to double its global share of renewable energy by 2030.
The Rainforest Action Network's report, Dump Now, Pay Later: Coal Ash Disposal Risk for the U.S. Electric Power Sector, is available at http://ran.org/sites/default/files/coal_risk_update_07_2013_vhigh.pdf.