Fly ash- Our homegrown job creator

( 6-29-2012) Montana needs to be focused on job creators, not job killers. And when there’s a good opportunity to keep the jobs we got and create new ones — good paying ones — then we should be doing everything we can to encourage it.
The Corette power plant in Billings employs 40 hard-working Montanans. Jobs like these are among the best the state has to offer. And no one wants to see more people unemployed. I know I don’t.
But those jobs could be in peril if Congress doesn’t do the right thing and adopt language in the federal highway bill to enhance the use of an important coal combustion byproduct called fly ash. Members of the House and Senate are working on compromise language right now to ensure appropriate regulation of fly ash while also expanding its beneficial use. The language would create a national standard for fly ash regulation — none exists right now — while giving the states the authority to regulate it.
Fly ash, which is recycled at the Corette plant for beneficial uses like concrete production and soil stabilization, is a safe, smart, cost effective material that literally forms the backbone of this country’s transportation infrastructure.
In Montana, fly ash is recycled and sold for use in the state and around the nation. It saves our state Department of Transportation $12.5 million a year in concrete costs.
When blended with cement, fly ash can be used to build roads, bridges, runways and rail transit system. It’s environmentally friendly and saves the country billions — $5.2 billion a year to be precise — because cement is far more expensive to use and repair.
Some like to argue that fly ash isn’t safe, that it’s bad for our environment. They couldn’t be more wrong. Recycling fly ash puts to good use an ingredient we are already producing. If the Corette plant didn’t recycle and sell fly ash, it would have to be shipped out elsewhere and deposited in a landfill.
That would cost tens of thousands of dollars in transportation costs and potentially more to our environment.
There are other environmental reasons to use fly ash. Fly ash cuts down on water and energy consumption and dramatically reduces our CO2 emissions. Cement production is the third-largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S., according to the EPA. But for every one ton of cement replaced with fly ash, we can eliminate one ton of CO2 emissions. That’s pretty significant.
Last year, Corette sold about 18,000 tons of fly ash, about 50 percent of which was sold for use in construction and transportation projects. And that equals jobs — from the jobs associated with sale of fly ash all the way to the jobs created to build our state and our nation’s infrastructure. There are about a quarter of a million infrastructure jobs created because of fly ash.
Here’s another reason why fly ash is so important: the life of a project constructed with it is far greater than a project built with cement alone: a bridge built with fly ash can last a century and a highway can last for 80 years. If all roads were constructed with fly ash, we could save $1.2 billion a year.
Like all Montanans, I care about job creation and economic growth. I care about creating a prosperous future for my kids and grandkids. Congress has the opportunity through the federal highway bill to set appropriate regulatory standards for fly ash to ensure its safe, long-term use. I am confident they will do the right thing.
Bob Winger of Billings is the president of the Montana Boilermakers and a candidate for the Montana House of Representatives.
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