Coal Ash a Beneficial Resource If Safety Concerns Are Put First, According to West Virginia Governor

(Huntington News 2-13-2010) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose new federal rules that would designate coal ash — a byproduct of using coal to generate electricity — as a “hazardous” waste. Such a decision would cause significant economic and environmental damage and I implore the EPA to evaluate the facts about coal ash recycling before making a decision. 

Coal fly ash has received a lot of attention following the December 2008 failure of a fly ash slurry impoundment in Tennessee. The safety of our citizens always takes first priority and every state should closely examine their fly ash impoundments, as our Department of Environmental Protection has done in West Virginia in the last year. But we must also separate the issues of the safety and benefits of the material and the faulty design and construction of the dam, which caused that horrible environmental tragedy in Tennessee. 

Jumping to classify coal ash as hazardous waste would neglect many dozens of years of proven beneficial uses of this byproduct. Hastily raising its status to “hazardous” could actually cause more environmental harm and place undue financial burden on countless thousands of Americans. 
According to EPA’s own figures, about 45 percent of all the coal ash generated by electric utilities in the country today is reused or recycled. Coal ash recycling is a multi-billion dollar industry that provides thousands of truly green jobs across our country. This reduces landfills and these beneficial products diminish acid mine drainage – a problem in many parts of the country. The EPA proposal would shut down the many U.S. businesses that recycle coal ash and similar materials into dozens of different products we use every day — from concrete to gypsum wall boards to roof shingles. 
According to the Electric Power Research Institute, designating coal ash as hazardous material would shut down 411 coal-based electric generating units in the Midwest and Southeast, costing some regions as much as 14 percent of their generating capacity. Industry figures show that in 2007, the cement and concrete industry used more than 14 million tons of coal ash. And, every year, thousands of concrete construction projects use coal combustion byproducts. 
For example, following the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis, the replacement span was built with high-performance concrete that uses coal ash.  In West Virginia, coal ash was used to build the world-famous New River Gorge Bridge and the West Virginia Culture Center. The California Department of Transportation requires that concrete used in its construction projects contain at least 25 percent coal ash. This past year, the gypsum wallboard industry relied on more than 8 million tons of a material recycled from fly ash, called flue-gas desulfurization gypsum. In 2007, more than 56 million tons of ash were recycled for beneficial uses. 
The safety of fly ash was evaluated in 2000 by the Clinton administration, which determined after an exhaustive analysis that coal ash should not be designated as a “hazardous” waste. In fact, in the 10 years since that decision, the EPA has calculated that ash recycling by the cement and concrete industry alone has reduced carbon emissions by a staggering 117 million tons. For comparison, all the SUVs on our country’s roads emit about 70 million tons of carbon each year, according to the environmental group, Environmental Defense. 
This view is not uncommon. Every key federal agency that has weighed in on the issue — the departments of Energy, Interior, Agriculture and Transportation, the Small Business Administration, and the Army Corps of Engineers -- opposes regulating coal ash as hazardous waste. In addition, dozens of state policymakers, including groups like the National Governors Association and the Environmental Council of the States, along with numerous state environmental protection agencies, also oppose the designation of coal ash as hazardous waste. More than three dozen industry groups and individual companies — those whose businesses rely on coal combustion products — have made it clear that hazardous waste regulation is unnecessary and would have a devastating impact on the recycling of coal ash. 

Coal fly ash has many beneficial uses and deeming it a “hazardous waste” could have devastating consequences on industries that use this product, and on the families who rely on the jobs related to coal combustion products. In addition, the elimination of the recycling of fly ash because of such a designation would cause a significant negative environmental impact and actually could increase the carbon released to the atmosphere. 
For the sake of our environment, our economy, and our citizens who rely on the products and jobs from coal fly ash recycling, let’s hope the EPA and federal government consider these facts and make the right decision. Designating this material as hazardous is wrong.
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