Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Enviros, economists question EPA's coal ash numbers

Posted By on Wed, Dec 29, 2010 at 2:28 PM

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is being accused of overestimating the economic benefits of recycling coal ash by more than $20 billion and underestimating, and even ignoring, some health and environmental costs of coal ash exposure.

During a conference call this morning, hosted by the Environmental Integrity Project, senior economist Frank Ackerman, of the Stockholm Environmental Institute (an affiliate of Tufts University), said he re-evaluated the EPA's cost-benefit analysis and "found it to be full of mistakes, large and small." (Read his testimony during the EPA's coal ash hearings here.)

That cost-benefit analysis was conducted by the federal government after the EPA proposed two coal ash regulation options, one of which will list the substance as a "special," or hazardous, waste.

Ackerman says his analysis makes a "strong case" for a hazardous waste classification.

If you'll recall, during the coal ash hearings the EPA held across the country, one of which was in Charlotte, the coal industry repeatedly used the word "stigma" to describe the hazardous waste classification. The fear is that if coal ash is called "hazardous," people won't want to use coal ash in their products, like concrete and asphalt, even though the EPA has gone to great lengths to protect those businesses already allowing for its "beneficial use." Meaning, if a company can use coal ash in such a way that it can't contaminate our waterways, then the EPA is encouraging them to do so, which makes the industry's cries of "stigma" curious.

Ackerman took that curiosity a step further and said, "The stigma argument isn't grounded in any real research."

In layman's terms, the coal industry is full of shit. And, it appears the EPA is helping them with this bullshit cause instead of doing what the agency is charged with doing — which is to protect the environment and the health of the citizens of the United States.

Back in the 1970s, coal ash went through a period where it was called "coal trash" and, as they are now, the industry cried "stigma." But, because coal ash is a much cheaper product than its competitors, businessmen eventually got over it and business when on as usual. And that's exactly what will happen in this case, regardless of how coal ash is classified since, ultimately, the impacts on their bottom lines will be minimal one way or the other.

The EPA promised tough coal ash regulations following the Tennessee Valley Authority's massive spill in Dec. 2008. It is unclear when they will finalize their ruling. The public comment period ended in November.

Starting at 4 p.m. today, you can listen to a replay of today's conference call here.

Further reading:

Is coal ash poisoning Charlotte-area drinking water?

Here's a video from the Knoxville News outside of the EPA's last coal ash hearing which, as you can probably tell, occurred just before Halloween:

Rhiannon "Rhi" Bowman is an independent journalist who contributes snarky commentary on Creative Loafing's CLog blog four days a week in addition to writing for several other local media organizations. To learn more, click the links or follow Rhi on Twitter.

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