Follow storms on KFOR live interactive radar

Can the state handle regulation of coal ash dumps?

OKLAHOMA CITY - It's a problem that's been building over decades - Coal-burning plants dumping coal ash by the ton in the Oklahoma environment with the possibility of it spilling into ponds and landfills.

Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency held a public hearing, as officials consider new rules to protect Oklahomans from the health effects of coal dust.

“Coal ash is composed of a whole slew of toxic chemicals. It is the byproduct of burning coal,” said Johnson Bridgwater, Oklahoma Chapter Director of the Sierra Club.

Now, regulation of that byproduct could change as the EPA looks to hand over control of coal ash disposal to individual states.

That could mean the Department of Environmental Quality will come up with its own rules to protect Oklahomans based on federal guidelines.

“We feel that the state of Oklahoma is asking to do more with its environmental regulatory bodies even though it has had its funding cut repeatedly year after year,” Bridgwater said.

The EPA's public hearing talked about ODEQ’s proposal to take over regulations, but many wondered, how can a cash-strapped state like Oklahoma take this on?

“The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality regulations are weaker than the EPA regulations,” said Rebecca Jim.

Earl Hatley said the same thing, “Oklahoma's regulations are weaker than the EPA regulations.”

One-by-one for 4 minutes, individuals and organizations spoke about their fear of toxic coal ash dumps.

DEQ argued it has experience with things like this, and will provide routine inspections. They also say they can assess penalties and suspend or revoke permits.

Those with groups like the Sierra Club question how, and with what money.

“With budget cuts and staffing cuts, we feel that it's completely inappropriate to give the state of Oklahoma another environmental duty,” said Bridgwater.

Written comments must be received by March 2 so the EPA can make a decision on the state’s proposal.