Washington, DC — Without public announcement, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has yanked its own website promoting the re-use of coal ash while this highly-touted partnership with the coal industry “is being re-evaluated,” according to the lonely disclaimer on now-blank agency web pages. Today, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) wrote to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging her agency to rethink the full range of risks in putting highly toxic coal combustion wastes into an array of consumer, agricultural and commercial products – which is the object of the suspended EPA/coal industry joint venture called the Coal Combustion Products Partnership or C2P2.
Coal ash and other combustion wastes represent the second biggest waste stream in the nation, second only to wastes generated by coal mining itself. Re-use of coal ash has, with active support of EPA, turned into a multi-billion dollar business that provides a huge subsidy to coal-fired power-plants. Following the disastrous Tennessee coal sludge spill in December 2008, EPA has belatedly undertaken an effort to possibly regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste. The main industry concern about regulating coal sludge ponds as hazardous is the “stigmatizing effect” that would have on the growing coal ash market.
The C2P2 program put EPA in an awkward position of promoting what it is supposed to be regulating. Earlier this year, PEER revealed that EPA officials routinely allow coal industry executives to edit agency reports and fact sheets to downplay risks of coal ash. C2P2 product endorsements have drawn criticism from EPA’s Inspector General. Last week, PEER filed an administrative complaint charging EPA with falsely touting, via C2P2 publications, greenhouse gas reductions from coal combustion waste reuse.
Last month, as it unveiled its final proposals for regulating coal sludge, EPA quietly posted a notice that C2P2 was temporarily suspended because it “was deemed appropriate to foster dialogue on the proposal evenhandedly with all interested parties through the public comment process.” This week in an unusual move, EPA went further by suddenly taking down all the C2P2 postings and leaving only this statement:
“The Coal Combustion Products Partnerships (C2P2) program Web pages have been removed while the program is being re-evaluated.”
“We suggest that EPA use this opportunity to honestly review the entire range of potential public health and environmental effects of injecting millions of tons of unquestionably hazardous materials into the stream of commerce,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that EPA has used industry research as the underpinnings of the C2P2 findings. “With so many unknowns, EPA should cease being promotional and try being precautionary about coal ash.”
If EPA is genuinely reconsidering its previous posture that virtually all re-use of coal ash was “beneficial” and thus beyond regulation, it would be a huge shift with profound implications for the economics of coal-generated power. “If coal plants had to properly dispose of all their combustion wastes this power source would not be such a bargain anymore,” Ruch added.