Coal Ash Debate is Really All about Coal

            Among the many things environmental activist groups don’t say out loud is this: The current focus on coal ash disposal is really not about coal ash – it’s about coal.

            Using the December 2008 Kingston coal ash spill as their springboard, environmental groups that want to do away with coal use altogether are attacking coal ash without regard for the substantial positive environmental benefits that come from its recycling.  They don’t care that labeling coal ash as “hazardous” would result in the loss of millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions reductions every year. By pursuing an excessive “hazardous” designation, they are simply trying to inflict the highest possible costs on coal-fueled power generators – thereby making coal less competitive in comparison to much higher priced and less reliable renewable energy sources. 

            Case in point: The article shown below is from the November-December 2009 issue of the Sierra Club’s magazine.  The article is entitled “Solving the Climate Puzzle, One Piece at a Time” and calls for hazardous waste regulation of coal ash disposal.  The main illustration shows a crane lifting a puzzle piece labeled “Coal Ash Regulation” into place.

            The article doesn’t spell out that the only way hazardous waste regulations for coal ash disposal could possibly reduce greenhouse gas emissions is by driving coal-fueled power plants out of business. (By the way, there’s also no realistic plan suggested for how to replace the energy resource that generates half of our electricity if they were successful in shutting it down.)

            The article also doesn’t say anything about the greenhouse gas emissions reductions that are created when coal ash is used to replace portland cement in the production of concrete.

            If the Sierra Club was serious about reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that it links to climate change, it would support policies that encourage greater recycling of coal ash as a preferred alternative to disposing it.  Meanwhile, disposal regulations can be strengthened without stigmatizing the coal ash resource with a “hazardous” label.

            But that’s not really what they’re interested in – is it?


Posted by: on: Feb 26, 2010 @ 12:39