CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than 16 months after a huge coal-ash spill in eastern Tennessee, the Obama administration said Tuesday it has still not settled on a proposal to better regulate the toxic byproducts of coal-fired power plants.
Instead, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency outlined two possible paths -- both known to environmental groups and the industry for years -- and said it is asking for more public comment on which way to go.
EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said her agency's announcement is "the beginning of a national dialogue," while also acknowledging, "there has been lots of discussion already."
Both options under consideration by EPA would provide for the first national requirement that new landfills handling coal ash have liners and groundwater monitoring to prevent leaching of toxic chemicals from the ash into nearby water supplies.
EPA said one path would be to fully regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste under one section of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. This would mean nationwide EPA regulations, oversight and enforcement.
The other path, EPA said, would be to regulate coal ash under a separate section of RCRA. Under this approach, EPA could set recommended guidelines, but actual regulation of coal-ash handling and disposal would be left mostly up to states.
During a conference call with reporters, Jackson described the two paths as "varying approaches to enforcement and oversight," but added, "both proposals reflect a major step forward on the national level."