Washington, DC — The Commonwealth of Massachusetts wants to award greenhouse gas credits for using coal combustion wastes, called coal ash, in cement production. This plan fails to account for the massive amounts of greenhouse gases generated by creating coal ash in the first place and, thus, undermines overall climate control objectives, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Last month, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) first proposed to extend credits recognizing verified greenhouse gas emission reductions to Energy Capital Partners’ Brayton Point Power Plant for processing coal ash intended for use in Portland cement production. DEP asserts that there will be a net greenhouse gas reduction due to reusing coal ash rather than using virgin material. These credits could then be traded in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) marketplace to allow purchasers to generate greenhouse gases. The comment period on this plan ends tomorrow.
Coal-fired power is the U.S.’s largest single source of greenhouse gas – generating around 40% of our total CO2 emissions, one of the greenhouse gases associated with climate change. The DEP proposal, however, omits any consideration of the massive amounts of greenhouse gases emitted in mining and burning the coal to produce the ash. In so doing, it eschews the type of life-cycle analysis that federal authorities require before awarding greenhouse gas credits.
“It would be paradoxical, if not outright oxymoronic to give greenhouse gas credits for creating coal combustion wastes,” stated New England PEER director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “This plan hands a back-door subsidy to coal-generated power – a myopic move that shoots our entire climate change strategy in the foot.”
The PEER comments point out that the Energy Capital Partners project is ineligible for RGGI credits. They also fault the DEP plan because assumed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions cannot be verified or enforced, as required by statute. In addition, Mass DEP did not look at a range of other pollution caused by use of coal ash as raw feed, disposal of cement kiln residues or end-of-life destruction of the cement.
PEER has also launched formal challenges against similar claims made by U.S. EPA touting “beneficial” greenhouse gas effects from coal ash reuse. In response to these challenges, EPA formally suspended its industry partnership promoting reuse of coal ash, pulled the plug on its coal ash website and announced a formal “re-evaluation” of its stand.
“We finally persuaded EPA to put down its coal ash pom-poms. So, it would be most unfortunate if Massachusetts cluelessly picked them back up,” added PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Promoting coal ash as an approach for addressing climate change is like pushing sugar to control diabetes – it just makes the underlying condition worse.”