Growing Haze over Coal Ash


"Opponents and supporters sound off on coal ash regulation."

Citizens, activists and energy and manufacturing workers responded to the federal government's call Tuesday for input on proposed regulations of ash produced by coal-fired power plants. The EPA hosted a public comment hearing Tuesday in Louisville.

The agency has proposed national rules for disposal and management of the ash, which contains mercury, cadmium and arsenic. Citizens and environmental activists said the ash is a health hazard and called on the EPA to impose tougher restrictions.

"It's destroying the health of our communities," said Thomas Pearce, a Sierra Club member who used to live near a coal ash storage site in Louisville. Pearce said the ash can't be left to state monitoring.

"Kentucky will never regulate coal ash, it will never happen," he said.

Industry workers argued the ash can be recycled and used in the manufacture of drywall and concrete, claiming stiffer environmental rules would hurt business by placing a stigma on the substance, also called fly ash. They said 15 million tons of the ash is used by the concrete industry each year.

"Coal ash does not classify as a toxic material," said John Ward, a member of Citizens for Recycling First, a pro-industry group.

The EPA's proposal would classify coal ash as hazardous waste, bringing it under direct federal enforcement. Under a second option, favored by coal and manufacturing industries, the ash would be considered non-hazardous and regulation of standards set by the EPA would be left to the states and citizens' lawsuits.

The EPA has said contaminants in coal ash leach into groundwater and migrate to drinking water, creating "significant public health concerns."

The disposal of coal ash became a national issue after 5.4 million cubic yards of the waste spilled into and around a Tennessee river in 2008, causing one of the nation's worst environmental disasters.

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