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Atlanta Environmental Law Blog

Federal coal ash disposal requirements require ongoing compliance efforts

In our last post, we spoke briefly about the criticism from elected officials and citizens in Wayne County directed against a coal ash waste disposal plan. As we mentioned, companies which produce coal ash waste are required to abide by state and federal rules and regulations concerning coal ash waste.

At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for overseeing compliance with the rules governing coal ash disposal. Under current regulations, there are technical requirements for coal combustion residual landfills and surface impoundments. In addition to these requirements, federal regulations also address matters such as leakage of contaminants into ground water, air pollution from coal ash residuals, and rules applying to the catastrophic failure of coal ash impoundments.

Coal ash disposal plan draws strong criticism from locals, elected officials in Wayne County

We’ve previously written about environmental regulations passed by the EPA in connection with coal ash ponds. Those regulations, as we’ve noted, require companies to routinely test these ponds for toxin levels and to decommission those which build up an excess of toxins.  One of the realities with coal ash is that it is a waste product that needs to be dealt with in order to avoid contamination of ecosystems and human populations.

One of the ways coal ash is disposed of is to simply dump it into landfills. According to the EPA, roughly 36 percent of coal ash waste generated by utilities in 2007 was disposed of in this way. Oftentimes, this disposal is done on-site where it presents the causing health problems through inhalation and groundwater contamination. 

Bills aim to prevent “overbroad classification” in class-action litigation, P.2

Last time, we began speaking about two House bills currently under consideration—the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act and the Further Asbestos Claims Transparency Act. As we noted, the aim of these bills is to prevent overbroad classification, but there is the concern that these bills, if passed into law, will make it harder for victims of corporate wrongdoing to receive compensation.

Opponents of the bills say they is crafted to prevent compensation of those harmed by faulty products, as well as those who suffer as a result of environmental violations and toxic torts, including asbestos exposure. With respect to the asbestos bill, there are not only concerns with access to the court system, but also with potential privacy violations.

Bills aim to prevent “overbroad classification” in class-action litigation, P.1

Class action litigation is an important way for consumers to receive compensation when they would not otherwise be able to pursue litigation due to the costs and likely small payoff for them as an individual  The idea with class action litigation is that similarly situated parties have the opportunity to receive compensation through the court system which they would likely not otherwise have the resources to pursue against powerful corporations.

Two federal bills currently in the House of Representatives could have a negative impact on the ability of consumers to receive compensation in class action litigation. The bills are the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act and the Further Asbestos Claims Transparency Act, and they are premised on the idea that the current way classes are formed by the courts puts those who are seriously harmed on the same footing as those whose harm is less serious.

Beltline gas station proposal will be in line with urban design standards, P.2

In our last post, we began looking at a proposal to build a convenience store in the Howell Station neighborhood and the objections local residents had raised about the proposal. As we noted, the concern was that the business proposing the project would disturb the Atlanta Beltline vision.

As it turns out, though, the business owner proposing the project will be required to follow Beltline Overlay District guidelines, which follow urban design standards. Among the goals of the legislation behind the guidelines is to preserve and revitalize existing neighborhoods, promote pedestrian-oriented environment, preserve the historic physical character of industrial districts, and to support green space. 

Thousands evacuated after exposure to contaminated air

Exposure to toxic chemicals can by facilitated by contaminated air, water or substances. In Georgia and all other states, there are federal and state laws that prohibit a company from allowing the massive leakage of contaminated air into the properties of thousands of nearby residential homes. Even at common law, there are nuisance and related tort actions that victims can assert to obtain compensation for illness related to exposure to contaminated air.

This is a serious issue in another state where thousands of residents of a small town have been evacuated from their homes after unwittingly breathing contaminated air. A gas company on the West Coast is the utility that is the source of massive methane leak that is spewing tons of dangerous fumes to the surrounding residential areas. People who have breathed the air have suffered nausea, headache and other short-term ailments. The fumes do pose a threat to living beings and are the cause of the foregoing, essentially short-term, health conditions.

Land development in wetlands must have prior government permits

In Georgia and nationwide, when a developer or other person intends to build on land that is environmentally sensitive, permits must usually be obtained from local, state and federal authorities. For all construction in the waters or wetlands, the developer must obtain a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers in addition to any other required approvals. Land development in environmentally sensitive areas is therefore subject to enhanced environmental protection measures.

Areas requiring an intensified approval process may include wetlands. These are areas that are periodically or permanently inundated by surface or ground water, and which support an ecological balance between vegetation, fish and wildlife. They serve and support a variety of other functions necessary to land stability and to the preservation of the natural habitat.

Beltline gas station proposal will be in line with urban design standards, P.1

Business development can be a real challenge when it comes to dealing with land use issues and zoning regulations. Depending on the applicable zoning laws citywide development plans, the type of development proposed, and the way in which a proposal is received by neighboring property owners, developers can sometimes face real difficult in moving a project forward, at least in the way they would like to.

In some cases, of course, a development proposal may not fundamentally conflict with the wishes of nearby property owners, but may only require tweaking. That seems to be what has happened, for instance, with a current proposal to construct a convenience store near the proposed site for Westside Reservoir Park, which was formerly Bellwood Quarry. 

Final report from EPA contractor details air, water quality findings after Barwick Mills fire

We have previously written on this blog about the Superfund cleanup process, which is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency. In previous discussions of the process, we have spoken about the common scenario of industrial plants causing environmental pollution as a result of routine operations, but this is not the only way a site can become contaminated.

Georgia readers may have heard about the fire that took out the Barwick Mills plant in LaFayette last month. For those who haven’t heard, the old textile plant, which stopped operating back in the 1990s, caught on fire last month and burned down. At the time the fire occurred, the southern half of the plant was being leased out, but there were no injuries. 

EPA faces legal challenges over recent Clean Air Act rule, P.2

In our last post, we began speaking about legal challenges the EPA is currently facing in connection with a recently established rule under the Clean Air Act. The rule, as we noted, requires states to cut out civil penalty shields from their pollution reduction plans. The Georgia groups who are opposing the policy raised a handful of legal issues for consideration. Some of these issues are similar to those raised by other appellants.

One issue is whether the EPA acted capriciously or illegally, or abused its discretion, in failing to demonstrate that Georgia’s State Implementation Plan—the regulatory plan the state has put in place to comply with clean air standards—is “substantially inadequate” to meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act. Another issue is whether the EPA engaged in unauthorized interference with Georgia’s authority to manage its own compliance with the Clean Air Act. 

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