Separation Technologies Response to "The Coal Ash Case"

(1-20-2010) Your January 20 editorial “The Coal Ash Case” is incomplete and if government status quo is any indicator quite misleading.  To be complete please consider these facts.
 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.   Better yet use technologies that greatly limit or eliminate the need for landfills and ash ponds completely.  It is being used in several states and in 4 countries now.
 As far as letting the EPA draft and then comment because “the Obama administration has promised that transparency and good science would govern decisions like these” well let’s just say politely there is absolutely no factual evidence in any issue whatsoever, anywhere, at any level, by anyone, that would support such a statement.
 J. Patrick Borders
Separation Technologies LLC