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EPA Spends Big Bucks to Build Barriers to Coal Ash Recycling

            The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spent over three-quarters of a million dollars to produce a report concluding that the agency should spend lots more to study risks of using coal ash in recycling applications where no environmental damages have ever been demonstrated or even alleged.

            That’s over $27,000 per page for the slim 27-page report issued March 23, 2011, by the EPA Office of Inspector General.  The report was undertaken in response to complaints by anti-coal environmental activists who have begun attacking environmentally beneficial uses of coal ash.

EPA’s Inspector General said the study was intended to “determine whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) followed accepted and standard practices in determining that coal combustion residuals (CCRs) are safe for the beneficial uses it had promoted on its Coal Combustion Products Partnership (C2P2) program website.”  EPA abruptly suspended the C2P2 program in May 2010 without discussion or notification to any of the other federal agencies or 200 program members who were working together to promote recycling of coal ash as a preferred alternative to disposal.

Seven EPA staff members worked on the Inspector General report over a nine-month period to conclude that “EPA did not follow accepted and standard practices in determining the safety of the 15 categories of CCR beneficial uses it promoted through the C2P2 program. EPA’s application of risk assessment, risk screening, and leachate testing and modeling was significantly limited in scope and applicability.”  The report recommended that EPA should “define and implement risk evaluation practices for beneficial uses of CCRs, and that it determine if further action is warranted to address historical CCR structural fill applications.”

The report noted that EPA’s proposals for new coal ash disposal regulations published in June 2010 concluded “that certain uses of CCRs, in sand and gravel pits as well as large-scale fill operations, represent disposal rather than beneficial use.”  That conclusion has been vigorously challenged in public comments on the proposed disposal rules.  EPA has said that it does not intend to finalize those rules any time during 2011.  (EPA has no legislative or judicial requirement to do anything about coal ash.)

The Inspector General report called for action that goes far beyond assessing the safety of coal ash use in structural fills, however.  The report calls for conducting risk assessments of coal ash use in the full range of recycling applications – even in applications where no allegations of environmental damage have ever been made.  This is in spite of the fact that the toxicity of coal ash falls well short of what is required to be considered “hazardous” and is similar to the toxicity of the materials it replaces in many recycling applications.

In announcing EPA’s proposed coal ash disposal regulations, EPA officials professed that they continue to support coal ash recycling.  In the ensuing nine months, however, EPA officials have taken no actions to demonstrate that support.  Issuance of this report indicates that EPA now plans to require coal ash recycling to stand up to levels of scrutiny that are not required of other recycled materials or the materials they replace.

A complete copy of the EPA report can be found here: www.epa.gov/oig/reports/2011/20110323-11-P-0173.pdf

Posted by: on: Mar 24, 2011 @ 06:24