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This opinion piece was written for Earthjustice and is reprinted here with permission.

News that the EPA may delay the coal ash rule until the end of 2012 or even 2013 will come as a bitter disappointment to communities across the United States. Many had faith in Administrator Jackson’s promise that this Administration would finally issue effective controls on toxic ash disposal in 2010.

The regulation of coal ash is already 30 years overdue. In 1976, Congress was cognizant of the threat to health, environment and drinking water from toxic waste, and it mandated that EPA regulate the disposal of both solid and hazardous wastes. In the years that followed, EPA proceeded to regulate hundreds of dangerous waste streams. Nevertheless, powerful interests have kept the regulation of coal ash at bay. In doing so, however, the electric utility industry has created monsters they cannot control—as seen in the release of over a billion gallons of toxic sludge from just one of hundreds of impoundments hanging above communities across the nation.

EPA has blamed the projected delay on the thousands of public comments it received on its proposed rule. It is untenable, however, that public comments alone could cause the target date to slip by years. Ironically, thousands of citizens in 2010 asked EPA for timely and decisive action. Now, the very existence of their pleas has created a screen behind which EPA can hide.

The danger of collapsed dams and poisoned water grows each year the industry escapes regulation. For each month of delay, almost 10 million tons of ash is dumped in the nation’s unstable ponds, leaking pits and unlined mines. The amount of toxic ash dumped in pits and ponds since the 2008 TVA Kingston spill is sure to top half a billion tons before regulations take effect, if EPA does not take timely action.

The nation cannot afford this dangerous delay. Nor can we tolerate any deception as to its real cause. If the coal ash rule is lost in the bureaucracy amid a mass of comments—it can surely be retrieved and timely published by employing the expertise of the scientists within the agency. If the rule, however, is a prisoner of politics, its fate is much less certain.