Industry Seeks Role in Defining EPA Coal Ash Reuse Risk Analysis

(Waste Business Journal 1-10-2012) The American Coal Ash Association (ACAA), representing companies that reuse ash in products such as cement, is asking the US EPA to heed its suggestions for EPA's pending risk study on ash reuse that will inform the agency's long-stalled Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA) final rule on coal waste disposal. Among other things, the industry group is urging EPA to assess the risks of ash use in products as well as any alternative ingredients that may replace the ash should manufacturers choose to do so. ACCA met with EPA waste chief Mathy Stanislaus on January 3rd to discuss its the pending risk study.
In June 2010 the EPA proposed regulating coal ash as hazardous waste subject to strict controls under RCRA subtitle C, or as solid waste under subtitle D, which would give states primary oversight of ash disposal. The agency has yet to send the final rule to the White House for review. Last month EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said that the agency is aiming for late 2012 to issue a first-time analysis on the potential health risks from reuse of ash in products, a study long sought by proponents of strong ash controls that could also inform the agency's final coal ash disposal rule.
ACCA and other coal ash reuse proponents are also pressing Congress to bar EPA from regulating the waste as hazardous over concerns such a designation would devastate the ash recycling industry by giving coal ash a "stigma" as a hazardous substance.
December 13, 2011
Coal Ash Recycling Rates Decline as Regulatory Uncertainty and "Toxic" Publicity Continue
Coal ash recycling in the United States declined in 2010 - reversing a decade of growth of a practice that conserves energy and natural resources, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and safely keeps ash out of landfills and disposal ponds.
The turnaround occurred as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed coal ash regulations that could designate the material as "hazardous waste" when disposed. Growing numbers of ash producers, specifiers and users have began reducing coal ash use in light of the regulatory uncertainty and publicity surrounding EPA's activities.
"We are about to enter the fourth year of an EPA rulemaking process that seems to have no end in sight," said Thomas H. Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association - an organization that advances the environmentally responsible and technically sound use of coal ash as an alternative to disposal. "Our worst fears are being confirmed. The ongoing regulatory uncertainty and a drumbeat of misleading publicity about the toxicity of coal ash are combining to cause decreases in the beneficial use of the material. The loser, unfortunately, is the environment as millions more tons of coal ash needlessly wind up in landfills."
According to ACAA's just-released "Production and Use Survey," 42.5 percent of the 130.2 million tons of coal ash produced in 2010 was beneficially used. That recycling rate is a decline from 44.3 percent in 2009 and a significant reversal of the previous decade's trend.
"Throughout the 1990s, recycling rates were in the 20s," said Adams. "In 2000, when the recycling rate was 29.7 percent, the EPA issued its Final Regulatory Determination that regulation of ash as a 'hazardous waste' was not warranted. Over the next eight years, EPA also began actively promoting the beneficial use of coal ash and the recycling rate soared to 44.5 percent in spite of steadily increasing volumes of the amount of coal ash produced."
The recycling rate stalled in 2008 and 2009 as EPA reopened its coal ash regulatory agenda following the failure of a coal ash disposal facility in Tennessee. In 2010, the recycling rate declined to 42.5 percent and the absolute volume of material recycled declined to 55.3 million tons - down from 60.6 million tons in 2008.
"Supporters of a 'hazardous waste' designation for coal ash disposal like to say that higher disposal costs will lead to more recycling. This real world evidence - coupled with the growing list of people ceasing the use of coal ash - completely contradicts that simplistic argument," said Adams. "The fact is that coal ash disposal costs did not change much between the 1990s and 2000s. What caused the dramatic growth of recycling in the 2000s was regulatory certainty that encouraged people to invest in recycling rather than disposal and a supportive EPA that actively encouraged recycling. All of that is gone now. EPA's 'Final' Regulatory Determination turned out not to be 'Final' and the Agency has abandoned its support or even meaningful discussion of coal ash recycling."
Adams said coal ash recycling is also being harmed by publicity activities of groups lobbying for a "hazardous waste" designation. "A steady stream of publicity about 'toxic' coal ash is causing people to shy away from using the material out of concern for its safety or potential legal liability of using a 'toxic' substance," said Adams. "Science tells a different story. Coal ash does not qualify as a 'hazardous waste' based on its toxicity. The trace levels of metals in coal ash are similar to the levels of metals in the materials coal ash replaces when it is recycled. But wellfunded groups are spending millions of dollars to brand the material as 'toxic' and the effects of this short-sighted campaign are beginning to show in the reduction of environmentally beneficial recycling."
 About Coal Ash Recycling
Almost half of America's electricity is generated by burning coal. Generating that much electricity produces large volumes of coal ash - the generic term for several solid materials left over from the combustion process.
There are many good reasons to view coal ash as a resource, rather than a waste. Recycling it conserves natural resources and saves energy. In many cases, products made with coal ash perform better than products made without it. For instance, coal ash makes concrete stronger and more durable. It also reduces the need to manufacture cement, resulting in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. About 11 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions were avoided by using coal ash to replace cement in 2010 alone.
Major uses of coal ash include concrete, gypsum wallboard, blasting grit, roofing granules, and a variety of geotechnical and agricultural applications.
The American Coal Ash Association has conducted a survey quantifying the production and use of coal ash in the United States each year since 1966. Data is compiled by directly surveying electric utilities and utilizing additional data produced by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The survey's results have been widely adopted by federal agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Geological Survey.
A summary of production and use data from the past 20 years is represented by the following chart and a complete copy of the 2010 survey results is on the following page.  (Visit the full article link below to see the CCP Productio & Use chart)
The American Coal Ash Association was established more than 40 years ago, in 1968, as a trade organization devoted to recycling the materials created when we burn coal to generate electricity. Our members comprise the world's foremost experts on coal ash (fly ash and bottom ash), and boiler slag, flue gas desulfurization gypsum or "synthetic" gypsum, and other "FGD" materials captured by emissions controls. While other organizations focus on disposal issues, ACAA's mission is to advance the management and use of coal combustion products in ways that are: environmentally responsible; technically sound; commercially competitive; and supportive of a sustainable global community.
Visit the full article link below to see the 2010 Coal Combustion Product (CCP) Production & Use Survey Report