Archive for the ‘Coal Ash’ Category

Is the EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis of the Coal Ash Rule Flawed?

Just over two years has passed since the Kingston, TN coal ash spill, but according to the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), federal proposals to regulate coal ash dumps are still “being held up by concerns that stricter standards would depress markets for coal-ash recycling.”

Aerial view of Kingston ash slide. Photo by Tennessee Valley Authority. Some rights reserved.

In December of 2008, more than 1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry gushed from the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant’s broken dike and destroyed several houses before pouring into the Emory and Clinch Rivers, killing numerous fish and polluting drinking water in the area.

Coal ash (also Coal Combustion Residuals or CCR), which is made up of byproducts of the combustion of coal at power plants, is currently considered an “exempt waste” under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA, 42 USC 6901 et seq). But even the EPA acknowledges that the ash contains “contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic associated with cancer and various other serious health effects.”

In the aftermath of the spill, realizing that “without proper protections, the contaminants in coal can leach into groundwater and often migrate to drinking water sources, posing significant health public concerns,” the EPA began the process of regulating coal ash disposal.

On June 21, 2010, the EPA published the Coal Combustion Residuals Proposed Rule, which sought public comment on two possible approaches for regulation under RCRA. Regulation under Subtitle C (40 CFR Parts 260-279) would treat coal ash as a hazardous waste, while regulation under Subtitle D (40 CFR Parts 239-258) would treat it as only solid waste (see the key differences between the options here). Needless to say, utilities are gunning for the less strict – and therefore less costly – option under Subtitle D.

Yesterday, however, EIP published a scathing press release, in which it accused the EPA of grossly overestimating the value of coal ash recycling in the Regulatory Impact Analysis for the proposed rule. While most environmentalists applaud the reuse of coal ash to make products such as concrete, cement, or wallboard, EIP is concerned that the overstated benefits could end up “stacking the deck in favor of the weaker regulatory option favored by industry,” as the EPA’s analysis implies that the higher costs of the stricter regulation may cause roadblocks to recycling the ash.

EIP worked along with Earthjustice and the Stockholm Environment Institute to re-evaluate the estimates in the EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis. You can read their report here.

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