Industry lobbyists are working hard to influence the EPA’s decision on whether to classify coal ash as a hazardous substance. According to a recent reports by the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, White House officials have held nearly twenty meetings with industry groups since last October to discuss the possible implications of classifying coal ash as a hazardous substance.
As I discussed in my December 22nd blog, an issue that seems to be a sticking point in the process is the impact of a hazardous designation on the coal ash recycling industry, which re-uses about 45% of the coal ash produced in the U.S. However, these “recycling” efforts may themselves pose a significant risk and do not change the scientific evidence that clearly demonstrates the hazardous nature of coal ash and the need for federal regulation to protect human health and the environment.
According to the Electric Power Research Institute, a utility funded research institute, coal ash “recycling” is a $5 billion a year industry that uses nearly 60 million tons of coal ash each year as a filler in cement, to fill abandoned coal mines, and to shore up highway embankments. While the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy does not oppose the beneficial re-use of coal ash in certain circumstances (such as a filler in portland cement), the use of coal ash to fill abandoned mines or to shore up highway embankments exposes communities and ecosystems, either through direct contact or by polluting water sources, to the litany of heavy metals contained in coal ash.
It seems to make sense for the EPA to make a science-based determination on whether coal ash is hazardous before allowing this substance to be spread across the landscape. If a recycling process can then be shown to cause no risk to human health and the environment, then that process could be allowed for in EPA’s regulations. Allowing a possible beneficial re-use of coal ash to impede EPA’s ability to regulate this hazardous substance puts our communities and ecosystems at unnecessary risk.
Another topic of discussion in the meetings between White House officials and industry representatives appears to be the claims of increased cost of electricity that would result from EPA’s designation of coal ash as hazardous. This is an all-to-familiar tactic used by utilities to slow our transition away from fossil-fuel based energy sources. However, these claims ring less and less true as it becomes more and more apparent that renewable energy resources offer cost-effective, environmentally benign alternatives to the use of coal as our primary energy source.
The White House and the EPA should not be influenced by industry scare tactics. The EPA’s determination should be based on the scientific evidence that has been collected over several decades, and this evidence clearly shows the hazardous nature of coal ash and the need for tough federal regulations to protect our communities and our environment. For too long, the true cost of coal-based electricity has been shouldered by the communities and ecosystems that surround our nation’s coal-fired facilities.
The evidence is clear — coal ash is hazardous to human health and the environment and it is the EPA’s responsibility to classify it as such and impose regulations concerning its storage, transport and disposal. The coal and coal ash industries cannot sweep decades of scientific evidence under the rug with closed-door meeting with White House officials. The EPA should quickly resolve this dispute by classifying coal ash as hazardous and beginning the rulemaking process for federal regulations.