Coal ash labeled as nonhazardous waste: EPA

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The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Friday the first national regulations for the safe disposal of coal ash from power plants.

The new rules categorize coal ash as a nonhazardous waste.

"These strong safeguards will protect drinking water from contamination, air from coal ash dust and our communities from structural failures, while providing facilities a practical approach for implementation," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a release.

The regulations include the closure of landfills and certain other facilities that do not meet construction standards. Other rules include stricter protection of groundwater and prevention of waste facility construction in sensitive areas such as wetlands and earthquake zones.

"The rules seem to be workable," said Phil Flynn, energy market analyst at the Price Futures Group, although he said the new restrictions "definitely makes things harder" for the energy companies.

With the new rules, the EPA said it is working toward greater reuse of coal ash. Nearly 40 percent of all coal ash produced was beneficially used in 2012, the agency said.

The EPA said it encourages individual states to adopt the federal minimum criteria.

House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders said in a release that the EPA rule on coal ash disposal was a good start but not enough.

"We still have a job to do on coal ash. While I am pleased to see that EPA did not pursue the regulatory approach that would have hamstrung recycling and other beneficial uses right now, a glaring hole remains as this rule fails to provide an effective solution or the regulatory certainty that job creators need," said the committee's chairman, Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton.

The Sierra Club said on its website that coal ash contains arsenic lead and other toxins that "have been linked to organ disease, cancer, respiratory illness, neurological damage and developmental problems."

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"There are some very important provisions in the rule announced today, but our sense is that it still leaves citizens vulnerable to a lot of risks associated with the way many utilities dispose of coal ash or maintain their waste sites," Emily Rosenwasser, a spokeswoman for the group, said in an email.

—Reuters contributed to this report.