Yesterday in Knoxville, TN the EPA held a public hearing on whether or not to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste.
Coal ash or coal combustion residuals (CCRs) are the stuff that is left over after coal is burned and constitutes one of the nation’s largest streams of waste. Coal ash contains many heavy metals and toxins such as lead, mercury, selenium, cadmium, barium and others. Currently it is largely unregulated and is mostly stored in giant unlined ponds that are hundreds of acres in size.
Coal ash was brought to the nation’s attention 2 years ago when in Kingston TN, when a TVA coal ash pond broke, spilling billions of gallons of coal ash into the Emory, Clinch and Tennessee Rivers, just a half hour drive from the Knoxville hearing.
The EPA heard a variety of speakers from the power industry and coal ash recycling companies. The urged the EPA to regulate coal ash under subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). This would basically keep coal ash regulated the same way it is now. Their main arguments are that further regulation is unnecessary and it would hurt their ability to make money because if it were regulated as a hazardous waste there would be a stigma attached to it and it would be more difficult to reuse the ash in products like wall board, concrete, structural fill material and soil amendments.
Environmentalists also came to let their voices be heard. Most believe that coal ash should be regulated as a special waste under subtitle C of RCRA, this would regulate it the same as a hazardous waste, but call it a special waste to avoid the stigma that industry folks are afraid of. They believe that, as it is today coal ash contaminates groundwater, surface water and air and poisons fish, soil and nearby residents.
Environmental groups also organized a rally at the hearing. Since Halloween is just around the corner they chose the theme “Coal Ash is Scary”. Over 50 people dressed up in costumes and waved signs to show their support of strong coal ash regulations.
The Sierra Club began the day by delivering 6,000 written comments to the EPA in support of strong federal regulation.
There is still time for you to submit written comments as well. Click here to tell the EPA what you think. Comments will be accepted through Nov. 19.