"Unfortunately, [the] EPA and OMB just got this wrong," said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project. "The 'regulatory impact analysis' prepared by [the] EPA to support its proposal exaggerates the economic left cycle value of coal-ash recycling, which could end up stacking the deck in favor of the weaker regulatory option favored by industry."
Coal-fired power plants generate more than 130 million tons of various ash wastes every year. The numbers have been increasing as more plants install scrubbers and other equipment to control air pollution, but shift the toxic leftovers from burning coal into ash and other wastes. By 2015, the annual amount of coal ash generated at U.S. plants is expected to increase to 175 million tons, a jump of more than a third.
No single national program sets up a concrete regulatory plan for the handling of those "coal combustion wastes." Instead, the nation relies on a patchwork of state programs that vary in terms of their standards and their level of enforcement.
The issue simmered for years, with little focus from political leaders, until the spill of a billion gallons of coal ash -- containing an estimated 2.9 million pounds of toxic pollutants -- from a Tennessee Valley Authority plant two years ago.
Despite initial tough talk on the issue, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson issued a regulatory proposal that did not settle on a particular strategy. The EPA sought public comment on one approach that would regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste, with nationwide regulations, oversight and enforcement, and an alternative that would leave actual regulation mostly up to the states.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.