Leaked Document Shows Federal Agencies Also Oppose EPA Coal Ash Plan

            A document posted on a public web site “in error” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows that numerous departments of the federal government have serious objections to EPA’s proposed “hazardous waste” approach for coal ash regulation.

            Written comments by eight other federal agencies were highly critical of an initial draft of regulatory approaches that was submitted by EPA for review by the White House. Many of the agencies expressed concern that EPA’s proposal to regulate coal ash disposal as a hazardous waste was both unjustified and a threat to coal ash recycling efforts.

            On May 4, EPA held a news conference to announce that it will seek public comment on two different potential approaches for coal ash disposal regulation. One approach is under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act’s Subtitle D, in which the federal government establishes standards that are enforced by the states.  The other potential approach is under RCRA’s Subtitle C, which pertains to hazardous waste and is under the federal government’s enforcement authority. (The 563-page “proposed rule” document still had not been published in the Federal Register as of May 25, so the announced 90-day public comment period has not yet begun.)

            A few days after its news conference, EPA quietly published another document showing the initial proposal it had delivered for review by the White House and other federal agencies. That document included marks showing all of the changes between the original draft and the version that will be released for public comment.  It also revealed that EPA initially heavily favored its “hazardous waste” approach.

            Anti-coal environmental activists pounced on the document as evidence that the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had somehow inappropriately meddled behind the scenes with EPA’s favored proposal.  In an article published in The New York Times, Center for Progressive Reform president Rena Steinzor was quoted as saying: "OMB is substituting its judgment for the judgment of the EPA administrator, and that's not the way this is supposed to work. Lisa Jackson is accountable for environmental protection and that she could be overruled by a bunch of economists in the basement of the executive office tells us that this process is frighteningly dysfunctional."

            But wait. Another document then appeared on an EPA web site – this one outlining the comments of various federal agencies during the White House’s review process.  This document is normally kept confidential to protect the deliberative process between federal agencies, but after its release “in error,” the agency decided to leave it on the public record.

            In addition to comments by “a bunch of economists in the basement of the executive office,” this document revealed the opinions of experts from the Departments of Energy, Transportation, Interior, and Agriculture, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers, Council on Environmental Quality, and Tennessee Valley Authority. These federal departments concluded, among other things, that: “Regulation of CCR under Subtitle C could have negative impacts on the reuse (beneficial use) of these materials and may create liability concerns related to past reuse of these materials in applications such as construction and agriculture, and these implications have not been fully explored in the draft rule or supporting materials.”

            In other words, most of the relevant agencies of the federal government – EPA being the notable exception – agree with an overwhelming number of local, state and federal elected officials, state environmental and transportation officials, actual coal ash users and professional societies.  Regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste when it’s destined for disposal will have a serious negative impact on its recycling.  If the EPA and environmental groups were serious about doing what’s best for the environment, they would support coal ash regulations that encourage safe and environmentally beneficial recycling as a preferred alternative to disposal.

            To read the Times story referenced above, click here:  For copies of the EPA draft rule, the redlined version of EPA’s initial proposal, and the document containing the opinions of other federal agencies, click here:


Posted by: on: May 25, 2010 @ 10:55