EPA failed to assess coal risks, IG finds

The Environmental Protection Agency recommended using coal waste in roads, buildings and other construction for about a decade without adequately assessing the damage it could cause, according to a new report from EPA's inspector general.

From 2001 to 2010, EPA promoted coal combustion residues -- the byproducts of coal-fired power plants, such as fly ash, bottom ash and boiler slag -- as potentially useful materials for wallboard, road bases, golf course fill, concrete and other applications, in an effort to reduce waste. The residues contain low concentrations of arsenic, lead and mercury, which are known to leach into ground water sources if unprotected, the report said.

EPA's recommendations came out of a government-industry coalition, the Coal Combustion Products Partnership, which included the American Coal Ash Association and Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, as well as other federal agencies.

The use of coal combustion residues as a structural filler nearly tripled between 2001 and 2008, from 4 million tons to 12 million tons a year, according to the report.

Yet, barring a single draft assessment examining the use of fluidized bed combustion waste --a specific coal combustion byproduct --in agricultural settings, EPA never undertook a risk assessment ofrecommended substancesin any of the uses it promoted.

When the agency started the partnership, the then-director of the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery said understanding the risks of the promoted products rested with the states. But only 34 states have programs for industrial waste reuse, and those programs could rely on EPA for technical and safety guidance.

Following the accidental release of more than 5 million cubic yards of coal ash sludge at a Tennessee power plant containment dike in 2008, EPA re-examined its policies on coal ash disposal. The agency proposed new rules to regulate coal ash products in May 2010.

Last October, the agency removed the Coal Combustion Products Partnership website from its domain, after an early version of the IG report informed EPA it might have been improperly endorsing commercial products and promoting views in opposition to its policy.

The report encouraged EPA to define the risks associated with future use of coal combustion byproducts, but also said the agency might have to take action to redress the past use of coal ash in structural fill situations. EPA said it would submit a "detailed corrective action plan" within 90 days.

Jason Hayes, communication director for the American Coal Council, said the IG report "is just another example of an ongoing campaign by the EPA against coal." He warned the agency plans to hold "coal ash up to a level no other recyclable material is held to."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.