Washington, DC — The coal ash industry has been able to call upon the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy to respond to proposals from states for stricter regulation of coal combustion wastes, according to EPA e-mails released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The messages portray federal agencies enlisted as lobbying arms for industry.
EPA is now belatedly wrestling with whether to classify coal combustion wastes, principally coal ash, as a hazardous waste following the disastrous coal ash spill in eastern Tennessee in late 2008. In the absence of federal regulation, states have struggled with how to handle the more than 125 million tons of fly ash, bottom ash, boiler slag, and flue gas desulfurization gypsum generated by coal-fired plants each year.
In arguing against federal regulation, industry has maintained that state regulation is best. Yet e-mails obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that industry worked in concert with EPA to counter state proposals for stricter regulation, including –
- Efforts in California to keep fly ash out of school construction in order to prevent mercury exposure of children;
- Legislation in Maryland to prohibit use of coal ash in agriculture or as land reclamation. This 2008 bill generated an “URGENT’ alert in which an Energy Department official dismissed the legislation as a “knee-jerk response to the contamination that has occurred” at a gravel mine; and
- A decision by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources to treat all coal ash as a waste, despite claims that “beneficial reuse” should be exempt.
“Industry appears to have used EPA as its pet pit bull to keep state regulators at bay,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to EPA’s Coal Combustion Products Partnership (C2P2), a formal promotional partnership between EPA and industry to increase use of coal ash in consumer products, agriculture and construction, that is still in effect. “Significantly, EPA officials in these exchanges did not exhibit the slightest interest in scientifically exploring any of the public health and environmental uncertainties raised by their state partners.”
One particularly troublesome tactic involves EPA developing an industry-approved “risk assessment” in hopes that it “will be attractive to state agencies” (in the words of an industry lobbyist) for state adoption in lieu of tougher regulation. One message on this topic from a coal ash industry lobbyist reads:
“Personally, I can’t thank OSW [EPA’s Office of Solid Waste] staff members enough for the efforts they have provided our industry….”
“EPA should stop acting as an industry agent for marketing hazardous waste,” added Ruch, noting that this coal ash industry partnership is under investigation by the EPA Office of Inspector General and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, through a spokesperson, has indicated that the agency-industry pact is under review. “EPA should redirect its resources to work with states in addressing legitimate and growing public health concerns about spreading powerfully toxic ash throughout our stream of commerce.”