On Thursday, I was greeted with this headline by Pam Kasey of the WV State Journal in my inbox:
“North-Central W.Va. is Ground Zero for Surface Mine Coal Ash”
The topic of the story in a nutshell is this:
“Mine operators are spreading serious amounts of coal combustion waste in W.Va. before the EPA declares it to be a hazardous material.”
Thanks to investigative research and testing following the TVA coal ash disaster in Harriman, TN., a year ago, it is now common knowledge that coal fly ash (also known as coal combustion waste, or CCW) contains numerous toxic metals such as selenium, mercury and lead, and according to the National Academy of Sciences, “can potentially be harmful to human health or the environment.”
Following a Senate investigation last summer into the properties of coal ash, committee chairperson Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) forced Homeland Security to release a list of the most toxic coal ash ponds in the country and is calling for stronger regulations on coal fly ash.
According to Kasey’s article, in the absence of federal regulation states handle the disposal of coal ash differently.
West Virginia, for instance, allows coal ash to be dumped directly into landfills or recycled into building materials such as concrete or drywall.
The state also has “by far the highest concentration of CCW mine placement in the country,” with “80 or 90 mine dumps” in just three counties.
Also according to Kasey, “A hazardous designation from the EPA would trigger the development of a federal disposal standard,” which means the mine operators and coal fired power plants could not simply dispose of coal ash in the traditional ways, but would have to handle the material as a hazardous waste.
Coal industry leaders complain that this would increase company costs, thereby increasing the price of electricity for consumers in West Virginia. At least one environmental advocate, Jeff Stant from the Environmental Integrity Project, believes that increased regulations on CCW will only mean a decrease in the use of that method of coal processing.