Citizens for Recycling First believes the best solution for coal ash disposal problems is to quit throwing coal ash away. Millions of tons of coal ash are safely recycled every year into construction materials like concrete and wallboard -- conserving natural resources, reducing landfill use and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.
That environmentally beneficial practice is threatened by irresponsibly labeling coal ash as "toxic" or “hazardous.” EPA is considering disposal regulations that may include a "hazardous" designation. Regulatory uncertainty created by this proposal is already harming recycling. It is imperative that the Administration lift the cloud of uncertainty by promptly creating new disposal regulations without an unwarranted "hazardous" label.
Response to Petition
By Mathy Stanislaus
Thank you for your petition regarding the safe recycling of coal ash. The Administration is grateful for the input we have received on this issue from a wide range of stakeholders, including businesses that contribute to environmental and public health protection through the safe re-use of these materials.
As our Nation learned from the catastrophic accident in Kingston, Tennessee, which spilled over 1 billion gallons of coal ash from a surface impoundment that failed, improperly designed and managed coal ash disposal facilities can pose serious environmental problems. To address environmental and public health concerns, the Administration is continuing work to develop appropriate standards for facilities managing coal ash, while encouraging the beneficial use of this economically important material.
The proposed rule issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) co-proposed two regulatory alternatives for the safe design and management of coal ash disposal facilities/units. Neither of these proposals would regulate coal ash that is beneficially used. As the EPA has stated previously, we strongly support the safe and protective beneficial use of coal ash, and recognize that many environmental and economic benefits are gained, including the potential for job growth. We also recognize that many of the businesses that are involved in the recycling of coal ash are small businesses.
Separately from the proposed rule, in response to an EPA Inspector General's Report (IG) (PDF), the EPA is developing a methodology (PDF) for evaluating the environmental acceptability of coal ash that is beneficially used. We plan to issue a report to the IG and make it available to the public in the spring of 2012. The implementation of this methodology is intended to provide greater assurance to industry and the public that the safe beneficial reuse of coal ash continues to be environmentally and economically sound.
We will carefully consider input from the recycling industry, community residents, states, environmental groups and other affected stakeholders as we continue our work to provide clear and sensible approaches for coal ash disposal that protect neighboring communities while also encouraging beneficial use of this material. Once again, thank you for your petition and for your engagement on this important issue.
Mathy Stanislaus is Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response