Coal Ash Recycling Declining Amid Regulatory Controversy

            Coal ash recycling rates stalled after eight years of dramatic growth when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began reconsidering a “hazardous waste” designation for ash that is disposed. Now, as EPA’s activities drag on, recycling rates have begun to drop.

            The American Coal Ash Association – which has tracked coal ash production and use since the 1960s – released figures for 2010 in December. The results showed a startling turnaround. In 2010, 42.5 percent of the 130.2 million tons of coal ash produced were beneficially used. That recycling rate is a decline from 44.3 percent in 2009 and a significant reversal of the previous decade’s trend.

            ACAA Executive Director Tom Adams explained: “Throughout the 1990s, recycling rates were in the 20s,” said Adams. “In 2000, when the recycling rate was 29.7 percent, the EPA issued its Final Regulatory Determination that regulation of ash as a ‘hazardous waste’ was not warranted. Over the next eight years, EPA also began actively promoting the beneficial use of coal ash and the recycling rate soared to 44.5 percent in spite of steadily increasing volumes of the amount of coal ash produced.”

The recycling rate stalled in 2008 and 2009 as EPA reopened its coal ash regulatory agenda following the failure of a coal ash disposal facility in Tennessee.  In 2010, the recycling rate declined to 42.5 percent and the absolute volume of material recycled declined to 55.3 million tons – down from 60.6 million tons in 2008.

“Supporters of a ‘hazardous waste’ designation for coal ash disposal like to say that higher disposal costs will lead to more recycling. This real world evidence – coupled with the growing list of people ceasing the use of coal ash – completely contradicts that simplistic argument,” said Adams.  “The fact is that coal ash disposal costs did not change much between the 1990s and 2000s. What caused the dramatic growth of recycling in the 2000s was regulatory certainty that encouraged people to invest in recycling rather than disposal and a supportive EPA that actively encouraged recycling. All of that is gone now. EPA’s ‘Final’ Regulatory Determination turned out not to be ‘Final’ and the Agency has abandoned its support or even meaningful discussion of coal ash recycling.”

            For a copy of ACAA’s announcement of the 2010 coal ash survey results – including detailed charts of the 2010 data and 20 years of historical trends – click here.

Posted by: on: Jan 27, 2012 @ 10:44