Washington, DC — For years U.S. Environmental Protection Agency publications and reports about uses and dangers of coal combustion waste have been edited by coal ash industry representatives, according to EPA documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Not surprisingly, the coal ash industry watered down official reports, brochures and fact-sheets to remove references to potential dangers and play up “environmental benefits” of a wide range of applications for coal combustion wastes – the same materials that EPA is currently deciding whether to classify as hazardous wastes following the disastrous December 2008 coal ash spill in Tennessee.
During the Bush administration, EPA entered into a formal partnership with the coal industry, most prominently, the American Coal Ash Association, to promote coal combustion wastes for industrial, agricultural and consumer product uses. This effort has helped grow a multi-billion dollar market which the industry worries would be crimped by a hazardous waste designation.
The documents obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act show how this partnership gave the coal ash industry a chance to change a variety of EPA draft publications and presentations, including –
- Removal of “cautionary language” about application of coal combustion wastes on agricultural lands in an EPA brochure to be replaced with “exclamation point ! language” “re-affirming the environmental benefits…that reinforces the idea that FGD [flue gas desulfurization] gypsum is a good thing” in the word of an American Coal Ash Association representative;
- A draft of EPA’s 2007 Report to Congress caused industry to lobby for insertion of language about the need for “industry and EPA [to] work together” to weaken or block “state regulations [that] are hindering progress” for greater use of the coal combustion wastes; and
- EPA fact-sheets and PowerPoint presentations were altered at industry urging to delete significant references to certain potential “high risk” uses of coal combustion wastes.
“For most of the past decade, it appears that every EPA publication on the subject was ghostwritten by the American Coal Ash Association,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who examined thousands of industry-EPA communications. “In this partnership it is clear that industry is EPA’s senior partner.”
This collaboration is not limited to publications, however. EPA staff also forewarned industry about conference calls and other intra-agency deliberations, such as growing concerns about “increased leaching of arsenic” from “increased use of fly ash” in order to let industry know where to target its lobbying efforts. The working relationship is so close that a coal ash industry representative joked to EPA staff in an October 27, 2008 e-mail, referring to a news article about mercury contamination from coal ash:
“We are in bed with the EPA again, it looks, at least according to this article. The advocacy groups are well organized and have the ready ear of the press.”
“It is no joke – the terms of the coal ash partnership tucks EPA snugly into bed with industry for the purpose of marketing coal combustion wastes as a product,” Ruch added noting that the partnership is still in effect. “EPA is supposed to be an objective regulatory agency dedicated to protecting the public instead of protecting a gigantic subsidy for a powerful industry.”