The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

EPA-Industry Coalition Blunts Tougher State Coal Ash Rules

Coal Ash Industry Enlists EPA to Quash Tighter State Regulatory Proposals


The coal ash industry has been able to call upon the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy to
respond to proposals from states for stricter regulation of coal
combustion wastes, according to EPA e-mails released today by Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The messages
portray federal agencies enlisted as lobbying arms for industry.

EPA is now belatedly wrestling with whether to classify coal combustion
wastes, principally coal ash, as a hazardous waste following the
disastrous coal ash spill in eastern Tennessee in late 2008. In the
absence of federal regulation, states have struggled with how to handle
the more than 125 million tons of fly ash, bottom ash, boiler slag, and
flue gas desulfurization gypsum generated by coal-fired plants each

In arguing against federal regulation, industry has maintained that
state regulation is best. Yet e-mails obtained by PEER under the
Freedom of Information Act indicate that industry worked in concert
with EPA to counter state proposals for stricter regulation, including -

  • Efforts in California to keep fly ash out of school construction in order to prevent mercury exposure of children;
  • Legislation
    in Maryland to prohibit use of coal ash in agriculture or as land
    reclamation. This 2008 bill generated an "URGENT' alert in which an
    Energy Department official dismissed the legislation as a "knee-jerk
    response to the contamination that has occurred" at a gravel mine; and
  • A
    decision by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources to treat
    all coal ash as a waste, despite claims that "beneficial reuse" should
    be exempt.

"Industry appears to have used
EPA as its pet pit bull to keep state regulators at bay," stated PEER
Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to EPA's Coal Combustion
Products Partnership (C2P2), a formal promotional partnership between
EPA and industry to increase use of coal ash in consumer products,
agriculture and construction, that is still in effect. "Significantly,
EPA officials in these exchanges did not exhibit the slightest interest
in scientifically exploring any of the public health and environmental
uncertainties raised by their state partners."

particularly troublesome tactic involves EPA developing an
industry-approved "risk assessment" in hopes that it "will be
attractive to state agencies" (in the words of an industry lobbyist)
for state adoption in lieu of tougher regulation. One message on this
topic from a coal ash industry lobbyist reads:

"Personally, I can't thank OSW [EPA's Office of Solid Waste] staff
members enough for the efforts they have provided our industry...."

should stop acting as an industry agent for marketing hazardous waste,"
added Ruch, noting that this coal ash industry partnership is under
investigation by the EPA Office of Inspector General and EPA
Administrator Lisa Jackson, through a spokesperson, has indicated that
the agency-industry pact is under review. "EPA should redirect its
resources to work with states in addressing legitimate and growing
public health concerns about spreading powerfully toxic ash throughout
our stream of commerce."


Read the detailed mercury warning from California

See the urgent alert about Maryland legislation

View the effort to deflect Puerto Rico coal ash ban

Look at the industry risk assessment suggestions

Examine coal ash industry influence over EPA papers and reports

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.