The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Inspector General to Probe EPA Marketing of Coal Ash

Agency Promotes Coal Waste "Beneficial Use" Without Completing Risk Assessment


The Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency has opened an investigation into the agency's
"partnership" with the coal industry to market coal ash and other
combustion wastes in consumer, agricultural and industrial products,
according to a report issued this week. The action underlines concerns
raised by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) that
EPA has been promoting the massive re-use of toxic coal ash without
understanding the long-term public health or environmental

The EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) report,
released on November 2, 2009, addresses why the agency did not release
a 2002 analysis on the cancer risk from exposure to coal ash until this
March. The agency still has not released a 2005 "sensitivity analysis"
on the same topic. While the report concluded that the OIG could find
no "evidence of any effort to improperly suppress the release of
scientific information during the rulemaking process" it did recommend
a new probe of why EPA was promoting coal ash prior to determining
whether these commercial applications were prudent or safe:

identified a potential issue related to EPA's promotion of beneficial
use through its Coal Combustion Product Partnership and have referred
the question how EPA established a reasonable determination for these
endorsements to the appropriate OIG office for evaluation."

OIG investigation arose from an October 4th piece by CBS's "60 Minutes"
in which EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson admitted that her agency had no
studies indicating that coal ash re-use was safe: "I don't know. I have
no data that says that's safe at this point." The OIG also found that
EPA began its formal partnership with the coal industry and the
American Coal Ash Association to push commercial re-use of coal ash
during a period (2003-6) in which the agency's scientific reviews of
potential health and environmental effects had been suspended.

Administrator Jackson has pledged to determine whether coal ash should
be classified as a hazardous waste by the end of this year but agency
insiders report efforts to exempt any re-use of coal ash on the grounds
that it is a product and not a waste.

"I fear that EPA will say
that coal ash is hazardous in a sludge pond but is perfectly okay in
your living room carpet, nursery wallboard or kitchen counter," stated
PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "EPA is supposed to be a regulatory
agency and, as such, should not be in a 'product partnership' with the
very industries that it purports to regulate."

EPA claims
credit for "beneficial" re-use of nearly half of all the coal
combustion wastes created - some 125 million tons - each year in the
U.S. In turn, this marketing effort generates between $11 and $13
billion each year for the industry, but industry derives immensely
greater economic benefit by avoiding costs it would face if coal ash
and the other combustion by-products were treated as hazardous waste.


Read the IG report

Look at the EPA-Coal Ash promotion partnership

See growing use of coal ash on farmlands

Watch the 60 Minutes segment on coal ash

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.