EPA coal-ash hearing draws advocates, environmentalists

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By Damon Lawrence

An industry exists for the fly ash produced at coal-fired power plants.

People who make a living in that industry were very vocal at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s public hearing on Wednesday.

Randy Compton said he sells recycled ash, which can be used in products like concrete, cement and wallboard.   

“I take it from the power plant and sell it to the ready mix producers,” he said.

Compton said he fears the Subtitle C proposal the EPA is considering will stigmatize ash as a hazardous waste. He said that would cripple the ash recycling business.  

“The market won’t use it,” Compton said. “They will not use it if it’s anywhere close to a hazardous.”

Compton wasn’t the only one to express that opinion. Numerous speakers wore pins that said Recycle First with a prohibition sign for Subtitle C.   

“When faced with the choice of purchasing a product containing a hazardous waste or purchasing a product without this stigma associated with it, a rational consumer will choose the non-hazardous option,” said Thomas Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association.    

The EPA has been holding hearings across the country to get feedback on its plan to regulate ash.

“Well over 1,000 people have provided testimony,” said Bob Dellinger, director of the EPA’s Materials Recovery and Waste Management Division.  

Wednesday’s hearing at the Marriott in downtown Knoxville was the last one scheduled. It attracted numerous environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, United Mountain Defense and the Environmental Integrity Project.

The EPA is considering two approaches to regulate ash.

“One option is drawn from authorities available under Subtitle C, which creates a comprehensive program of federally enforceable requirements for waste management and disposal,” the EPA said in a press release.

“The other option includes remedies under Subtitle D, which gives EPA authority to set performance standards for waste management facilities and would be enforced primarily through citizen suits.”

Stephen A. Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the Subtitle D option does not do enough.

“The bottom line is under Subtitle D, you defer tremendously to the states, and what we’re seeing is the states aren’t stepping up,” Smith said. “EPA has a role, has a responsibility to be a back stop, and that’s why we are strongly in support of Subtitle C because we need that back stop. We need that agency to make sure that the rules are enforced.”

The issue of what to do with ash produced at power plants was thrust into the spotlight following a dike failure at TVA Kingston’s Fossil Plant.

Some of the businessmen who spoke at the hearing said the disas-
ter was the result of bad engineering, not bad policy.

Steve Scarborough, a member of the Roane County Community Advisory Group, disagreed.

“This army of hired corporate spokesmen has come before you and whined that adequately protecting the public will cost too much, or cost jobs,  or make coal ash seem like a bad thing,” he said. “If you want to see stigma, just come out to Roane County and see what it is like trying to put your life, business and property values back together after you get hit by the mother of all stigmas.”

Jerry Crosslin works for a company in Chattanooga called Sphere One, which he said sells recycled ash. Crosslin said the Subtitle C option will put his company out of business.

“The majority of our customers will go away because it will be classified as hazardous, and our customers won’t put it into their products and they’ve already told us that,” he said. “We’ll wind up closing our doors.”  

The EPA will accept comments on the proposed coal ash rules through Nov. 19.

They can be e-mailed to rcra-docket@epa.gov or faxed to 202-566-0272, Attention Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-RCRA-2009- 0640.

Comments can be mailed to RCRA Docket, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Attention: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-RCRA-2009-0640, Mail code: 28221T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20460.