Washington, DC — An Executive Order directing federal agencies to reduce the carbon footprint of their purchases should disqualify purchases of coal ash and other coal combustion wastes, according to a filing today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). If federal procurement rules are changed to bar coal combustion wastes, the coal industry would lose access to a sizeable portion of construction market.
On October 8, 2009, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13514, entitled Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance. One of the directive’s main purposes is to leverage the federal government’s significant purchasing power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Significantly the order covers both direct greenhouse gas emissions from the use of the finished product as well as indirect emissions used to create the product in the first place.
Coal-fired power, which creates the ash and other combustion wastes, is a main source of greenhouse gases in the nation. In response to a similar petition filed last month by PEER, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency removed a center on its own website promoting the re-use of coal ash on the grounds of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, among other claims now “being re-evaluated” according to the disclaimer on now-blank EPA web pages.
“If the federal government is truly going to reduce its carbon footprint, banning coal ash is an unavoidable step,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that EPA is now deciding whether to classify coal ash as a hazardous waste. “Right now our system has backward incentives, giving ‘green’ credit for using the ultimate ‘brown’ product – coal ash.”
Highly toxic coal combustion wastes are today used an array of consumer, agricultural and commercial products. Coal ash is also widely used in construction, particularly cement, drywall and tiles. Current purchasing guidelines mandate federal procurement of coal combustion fly ash cement and concrete products since they are classified as recovered content or recycled products. PEER advocates revising these procurement guidelines because they now conflict with the Obama Executive Order.
Each year, the federal government directly purchases more than half a trillion dollars in goods and services. Federal purchasing accounts for between a quarter and a third (recent recovery spending has pushed up the federal share) of the construction sector. Public construction projects represent 25% of total construction uses of U.S. coal combustion residuals.
The PEER comments are directed to the White House Council on Environmental Quality as it prepares guidelines for greenhouse gas accounting to implement the Obama order. A major task before CEQ is how to account for indirect emissions of greenhouse gases, the area where coal ash carries a huge liability.
“Current policy provides a federal market subsidy to the greenhouse gas intensive coal industry,” added Ruch. “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions requires that we recognize the full lifecycle costs of coal.”
Read the PEER comments to CEQ
See the recent EPA retreat on promoting coal ash
Look at the products containing coal ash