A judge in Maryland may have opened the floodgates when it comes to suing energy companies for damages caused by coal ash storage. The Washington Post is reporting that a federal judge has decided to allow environmental groups to jump in on lawsuit filed by the Maryland Department of the Environment against the operator of a landfill.

Earlier in the summer, the Maryland Ash Management Company asked a judge to throw out the lawsuit filed against them and to prohibit environmental groups from joining the lawsuit. The judge ruled against Maryland Ash in both cases.

As for the lawsuit, the Maryland Department of Energy claims that Maryland Ash has been releasing arsenic, cadmium and selenium into water that has eventually made its way to the Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary. While releasing some chemicals is permitted by the state of Maryland, the suit claims that Maryland Ash has exceeded the limits of those permits.

So now that the trial can proceed, the year of coal ash regulation — or lack there of — continues. Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting a nationwide “listening tour,” taking public comment on options for regulating the byproduct of coal production. But, the EPA public comment sessions have often resulted in an us-versus-them atmosphere, with health and environmental concerns facing off against industry.

Several citizens who had been affected by coal ash, including the Tennessee Valley coal ash spill of 2008, tried to meet earlier this summer with Obama regulatory czar Cass Sunstein about current lax coal ash regulations. They were only able to get a conference call with Sunstein, despite traveling to Washington to meet him, but I happened to bump into them with a video camera.

As of right now, there is no specific timetable for the start of the Maryland coal ash trial or for any conclusions to be drawn from the public comment sessions.  

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