EPA Holds First Public Hearing on Coal Ash Proposal
Today in Arlington, the Environmental Protection Agency is holding its first public hearing on its proposal to regulate coal ash, the byproduct of coal-fired power generation. Coal ash first became a part of the public discourse following a massive spill of the substance from a containment pond in Tennessee in 2008. A break in the pond spilled more than 1 billion gallons of coal ash, which included a number of potentially toxic metals.
EPA has offered two proposals to regulate the byproduct. The first proposal would regulate coal ash as a “special waste” and the second would regulate it as a nonhazardous material. Environmentalists prefer regulating the byproduct as a special waste because such a categorization would require more stringent oversight.
In testimony at the meeting, Rena Steinzor, president of the Center for Progressive Reform, criticized the White House Office of Management and Budget for its cost-benefit analysis of the two proposals. Steinzor called the analysis ”fanciful but deadly” because it “predicts negative net benefits of as much as $239 billion if EPA regulates coal ash appropriately, as a special waste under subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Or, to put it more bluntly, electric utility executives who generate 136 million tons of coal ash annually will squander $239 billion of the nation’s resources over the next 50 years because, suffering from the stigma effect, they will send millions of tons of the stuff to lined landfills rather than dumping it in road beds and mine shafts.”
Steinzor also cited these statistics about coal ash:
- “31 percent of landfills and 62 percent of surface impoundments devoted to coal ash disposal lack liners to prevent leaching of heavy metals into groundwater.”
- “58 percent of such impoundments do not have any system for monitoring whether they are leaking.”
- “186 of some 584 impoundments operating in the U.S. were not designed by a professional engineer.”
- “56 of these dumps are older than 50 years, 96 are older than 40 years, and 340 are between 26-40 years old.”
- “State regulators excused 80 percent of owners and operators from dealing with groundwater protection when they closed their impoundments and 88 percent from proving they have the financial wherewithal to deal with problems discovered later.”
Though Steinzor says regulating coal ash as a “special waste” is preferable, the Knoxville News Sentinel notes that some environmentalists are pushing for the waste to be regulated as a “toxic pollutant.”