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Anti-Coal Groups Trying to Avoid Blame for Hurting Recycling

            Faced with mounting evidence that their push for a “hazardous waste” designation for coal ash is harming environmentally beneficial recycling activities, anti-coal groups are falling back on an old strategy: Accuse “industry” of “misleading” the public.

            In a February 3 post on the Earthjustice “Tr-Ash Talk” blog, Lisa Evans accuses the American Coal Ash Association of “flim-flam” manipulation of the coal ash production and use survey it has conducted every year since the early 1960s. In December, ACAA released the 2010 survey results that show a downturn in coal ash recycling rates after more than a decade of dramatic growth. (For more on the survey results, look here.)

            The Earthjustice blog post claims regulatory uncertainty and the threat of a hazardous waste designation are not the cause of a downturn in recycling rates. Their simplistic explanation: It’s all attributable to a bad economy. Their source: An environmental economist whose most recent book “reframes the economics of climate change in terms of insuring the planet against worst-case scenarios, addressing the needs of future generations, and accepting the challenge of global equity that is raised by the climate crisis.”

            If Earthjustice or its chosen “expert” on coal ash recycling had bothered to look at more than two years of data, they would have realized that certain uses of coal ash – such as fly ash in concrete – tend to rise modestly during periods of economic downturn as users turn to less expensive raw materials as a cost reduction strategy. They would also realize that even though the use of fly ash in concrete increased from 2009 to 2010, the 2010 usage remained well below the average of the previous decade. (Total fly ash in concrete utilization of 11 million tons in 2010 is below the 10-year average of 12.8 million tons and the utilization rate of 16.3 percent is below the 10-year average of 18.3 percent.)

            The fact is that coal ash recycling does not simply respond to macro trends in construction economics. Coal ash recycling depends on investing money to build supply chains and develop user confidence in the product. That’s why recycling rates that were basically stable through the 1990s shot up dramatically after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2000 issued a “Final Regulatory Determination” that coal ash would not be regulated as a hazardous waste. The regulatory certainty encouraged investment that led to higher recycling. Now that regulatory uncertainty has been reintroduced, people are unwilling to invest and recycling rates have begun to slide.

            This is not the first time anti-coal environmental groups have advanced sophomoric economic analysis to support their push for a “hazardous waste” designation. For the past three years, many of them have insisted that a “hazardous waste” designation will be good for recycling because it will make the cost of disposal go up. (For a detailed debunking of that theory, look here.)

            In the meantime, if you have any doubts about Earthjustice’s real attitude toward coal ash recycling, just look at the illustration on their blog post – a bright yellow warning sign with skull and crossbones and the word “toxic” in all capital letters. That’s sure to help us get recycling back on track, isn’t it?

Posted by: on: Feb 07, 2012 @ 12:33