07/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

EPA Reveals Dangerous Coal Ash Sites

The Environmental Protection Agency released on Monday afternoon a list of 44 "high hazard potential" coal ash sites that the federal government had previously insisted be kept secret.

At a June 12 press conference, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said the Department of Homeland Security and the Army Corps of Engineers had placed a "huge muzzle" on her staff regarding the coal ash sites.

A coalition of environmental groups, including Earthjustice and the Sierra Club, had pressed for the release of the information in a Freedom of Information Act request. Earthjustice praised the EPA in a press release for disclosing the sites. But Lisa Evans, an attorney with Earthjustice, isn't totally satisfied.

"It is laudable for the EPA to respond to our FOIA," Evans told the Huffington Post. "But now that we can see the list, it raises questions. Like why some are not on the list."

In addition to the 44 coal sites that have been designated "high hazard," there are hundreds more that could pose environmental and health risks.

Evans noted that there are no Tennessee facilities on the list. Boxer called a recent massive coal ash spill from the Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee 100 times worse than the Exxon-Valdez oil spill.

"There are no [Tennessee Valley Authority] facilities on the list," said Evans. "While I personally knew the TVA Kingston facility would not be there, I expected some of the other TVA sites to be included."

The EPA said in a release that the agency will "require appropriate action" at any facility that is found to pose a risk.

"The presence of liquid coal ash impoundments near our homes, schools and business could pose a serious risk to life and property in the event of an impoundment rupture" said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson in a statement. "By compiling a list of these facilities, EPA will be better able to identify and reduce potential risks by working with states and local emergency responders."

According to the EPA's fact sheet, "A high hazard potential rating indicates that a failure will probably cause loss of human life. The rating is not an indication of the structural integrity of the unit or the possibility that a failure will occur in the future; it merely allows dam safety and other officials to determine where significant damage or loss of life may occur if there is a structural failure of the unit."