Utilities with major coal ash sites include American Electric Power Co., First Energy Corp., NRG Energy, Southern Co. and Scana Corp.‘s Santee Cooper, which has said that it recycles as much as 90 percent of its coal ash in good economic times. They are now tasked with how to dispose of their coal ash, which the EPA has said is a “solid waste” and that it can be recycled. 

The chief concern among environmentalists — and everyone else — is to avoid the type of accidents that occurred in the territories of Duke and the Tennessee Valley Authority; both regions suffered from awful coal spills that have been blights on the surrounding communities that are extremely expensive to remedy.

A dam burst at TVA’s Kingston facility near Knoxville, Tenn. on December 22, 2008, releasing 5.4 million cubic yards of “wet coal ash” into the local communities there — considered one of the worst environmental disasters in American history. Five years later Duke Energy also had a coal ash spill that released 100,000 cubic yards of waste into the nearby Dan River. The river turned completely grey.

Utilities are trying to deal with issue by converting wet ash to dry ash and then burying it lined pools. Existing sites, though, remain a sticking point, with utilities saying that some sites are perfectly safe and that moving the ash would be more problematic.