EPA may soften stance on coal ash
Forbes magazine is reporting that despite extreme pressure from environmental groups, the Obama administration may have finally realized that regulating coal combustion residuals (CCRs or coal ash) as “hazardous” would cause serious economic, social, and environmental impacts across the country. As a result, they may be softening their hardline stance on coal ash regulations. They may be willing to continue regulating coal ash as solid waste, while upping requirements associated with disposal and storage.
While its environmental backers won’t be happy, the president and his Environmental Protection Agency will probably opt to continue regulating that coal combustion byproduct as a solid waste, as opposed to a hazardous waste. The difference is that solid wastes are allowed to be recycled and used in such things as cement and dry wall. A hazardous waste ruling would stigmatize that coal ash and would essentially dry up those secondary markets, which would also increase the amount of refuse that must be dispensed. “About 40 percent of all coal ash is recycled,” says Rick Boucher, former Democratic lawmaker on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who spoke at an EnergyBiz forum last week. “No one would use hazardous waste in a commercial product.” He goes on to say that a final ruling, which could get published next summer, will fall into the non-hazardous category but with “stricter” disposal provisions.
This decision would, of course, be the common sense route to handle the recycling and disposal of CCRs. As we demonstrated in the most recent issue of American Coal magazine, exposure to CCRs poses no more pollutant-related risk than exposure to the soil in your average American back yard. This moderating move on the EPA’s extreme stance on coal ash is also backed by the work of the American Coal Ash Association which has demonstrated the value and economic/environmental benefits associated with coal ash recycling and reuse. In a recent press conference to cover the release of their just published 2011 Coal Ash Production and Use Survey, the ACAA explained how regulatory uncertainty on CCR regulationswas negatively impacting recycling rates.
Coal ash recycling in the United States last year remained below 2008 levels for the third consecutive year – stalled after nearly a decade of growth of a practice that conserves energy and natural resources, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and safely keeps ash out of landfills and disposal ponds. The turnaround occurred as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed coal ash regulations that could designate the material as “hazardous waste” when disposed. Growing numbers of ash producers, specifiers and users have restricted coal ash use in light of the regulatory uncertainty and publicity surrounding EPA’s activities.
Therefore, given the economic and environmental benefits associated with CCR recycling and the fact that exposure to CCRs is similar to exposure to the soil in your backyard, a moderating tone from the EPA on CCRs is long overdue. Read the full ACAA press release on the ACAA website.