News About Coal Ash

Sierra Club Lawsuit Drives EPA to Review Dangerous Loophole in Coal Ash Law

February 3, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, the Sierra Club and EPA reached a settlement agreement requiring the agency to review–and if necessary, revise–a dangerous loophole in the Coal Combustion Residuals rule that exempts hundreds of coal ash landfills across the country from federal regulations.

When EPA issued its first coal ash regulations in 2015, the rule included a loophole that allowed the widespread but undetected contamination of groundwater and surface water from inactive coal ash landfills. On behalf of Sierra Club and other environmental, civil rights, and community groups, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit challenging this loophole, which allows hundreds of toxic coal ash ponds to operate without critical safeguards.

The settlement released today requires EPA to publish a proposed update to the coal combustion residuals rule by no later than April 14, 2023.

“Right now, a gaping hole in EPA’s coal ash rule allows for pollution of our waters with some of the nastiest contaminants around, from carcinogens like arsenic, cadmium and chromium to neurotoxins such as lead and lithium,” Sierra Club Senior Attorney Bridget Lee said. “We’re pleased EPA has agreed to review the loophole, which allows hundreds of toxic dump sites to operate without critical safeguards.”

"There's no such thing as too much oversight at coal ash facilities because they pose a clear danger to precious clean water that's needed to grow food, drink, recreate, and support wildlife," said Patricia Schuba, President of the Labadie Environmental Organization. "We need an EPA that enforces the CCR rule so no utility can violate the law and leave toxic waste sitting in groundwater–while pretending that washing it into our rivers and streams for others to drink is a solution. Without clean closure, coal ash will remain a threat to our communities."

“Coal ash contamination actively makes our water unsafe to drink,” Charline Whyte, Senior Campaign Representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi said, “and throughout the South, Southern Company keeps cutting corners on coal ash cleanup to save a buck, all at the expense of the health of our communities and watersheds. We hope the EPA closes this loophole for good and continues to strengthen federal regulations on coal ash. But ultimately, utility companies need to stop burning coal and stop coal ash at the source.”

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit