Separation Technologies' Response to Wall Street Journal Article "White House, EPA at Odds Over Coal-Waste Rules"

January 11, 2010
The Editor
Wall Street Journal
1211 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036
Subject:  “White House, EPA at Odds Over Coal-Waste Rules”  Saturday/Sunday, January 9-10, 2010
As one of those companies Earth Justice attorney Lisa Evans accuses of trying to use “back door influence” in the article by Neil King Jr and Rebecca Smith on coal waste (“White House, EPA at Odds Over Coal Ash Waste Rules”, Saturday/Sunday, January 9-10, 2010) in which environmentalists are pitted against the utility industry,  we feel need to comment.   It tells only part of the story.  As briefly mentioned in the article, an adverse ruling in which coal ash is tagged with a “hazardous-waste” label will jeopardize the use of coal ash in construction materials.

For more than 80 years coal ash has been used as a substitute for cement in concrete. Partial replacement of cement by fly ash makes the concrete less costly and more durable. Because the improved durability increases the life and reduces the maintenance of structures, state and federal authorities specify coal fly ash concrete in highways, dams, and other infrastructure projects. Environmental benefits from utilizing coal ash in concrete include not only avoided disposal costs and impacts, but also a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Substituting one ton of cement by one ton of coal fly ash eliminates 0.95 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

The hazardous waste designation is not supported by nearly three decades of study by the EPA, Department of Energy, the Federal Highway Administration, the Department of Agriculture, the Electric Power Research Institute, the Utilities Solid Waste Activities Group, members of academia, state agencies and many others. Using the criteria outlined in Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act coal combustion products (CCPs) have been evaluated for toxicity and been found to be well below the criteria that would require a hazardous designation.

Because of the potential liabilities, the stigma attached to CCPs by a hazardous-waste label of any kind would end the beneficial use of coal ash in concrete. Many utility companies will opt for the certain higher costs of disposal rather face the uncertainty of much higher litigation costs and liabilities. Concrete producers will avoid the potential liabilities by using straight cement or substitutes such as blast furnace slag, a byproduct of steel making, most of which is imported.

For these reasons the following have voiced their opposition to a hazardous waste designation of any kind for CCPs in letters to the EPA and OMB:  National Governors Association, U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Conference of State Legislatures, Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials, Environmental Council of the States, 27 state environmental agencies, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, 10 state departments of transportation, Unions for Jobs and the Environment, American Society for Testing Materials, American Concrete Institute, National Ready Mix Concrete Association and 9 state public utility commissions.     

Rather than implement a regulation with an unsubstantiated “hazardous waste”  designation that will have the unintended consequences of reducing the beneficial use of valuable CCPs and increasing the amount to be disposed, it makes more sense to address the issue of the structural integrity of ash ponds and other disposal practices.

As far as “back dooring” the process is concerned Ms. Evans, we are a high-tech, highly principled, sustainable company. We like many others in our industry have taken a firm and factual, non anecdotal position, published it openly, have written letters to legislators and would-be litigators, created a public website on which all sides can be fairly heard and then, through open and standard channels, requested a meeting with the OMB.    The OMB, the EPA, and even a representative of the White House received us according to the letter of the process cordially and with interest.  It is now a matter of public record on a government website.

This is the front door Ms. Evans.  This is the door we were taught growing up was the right door; regulation and capitalism working together to offer a sustainable solution to a real problem with ingenuity, growth, jobs, and honesty.
J. Patrick Borders
James D. Bittner, Sc.D.
Vice President Technology
Separation Technologies LLC
Separation Technologies LLC is a processor and marketer of coal fly ash to concrete producers.