Thursday, January 14, 2010

Coal ash recyclers predict doom if EPA labels ash as hazardous; proponents claim scare tactics used

We reported in December that the Environmental Protection Agency had delayed a decision on new rules for the disposal of coal ash waste. One holdup in that decision appears to be the effect a hazardous waste designation would have on ash recycling efforts. "Slapping a hazardous label on coal ash and other coal byproducts would trigger the writing of a federal disposal standard to replace a patchwork of state regulations," Patrick Reis of Greenwire reports for The New York Times.

Industry officials say a hazardous designation would cripple the ash-recycling enterprise that the Electric Power Research Institute says generates $5 to $10 billion a year in revenue for coal-burning utilities, Reis reports. The American Coal Ash Association says about 60 million tons, 45 percent of the total ash generated in 2008, was used to fill abandoned mines, make concrete and shore up eroding highway embankments. The American Society for Testing and Materials International, a coalition that sets material and building standards, said last month it would not support the use of coal ash in concrete if the ash is declared a hazardous waste.

Supporters of the hazardous designation say fears about the death of the recycling industry are unfounded and just a scare tactic from industry officials. "I have never seen the first study or piece of data to substantiate the claim that there would be this stigma that would stop recycling of coal ash," Jeff Stant, director of the Environmental Integrity Project's campaign for federal regulation of coal-combustion waste, told Reis. "It's important to note that the people who have been making that claim are the ones who have a financial interest in not having the designation." EPA could issue a hybrid ruling that declared ash as waste hazardous ash put toward beneficial use as OK. (Read more)

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