The EPA has said that coal ash recycling is worth more than $23 billion [PDF] a year, based on the pollution avoided and energy saved. The problem with that estimate? It's more than 20 times higher than the actual number—$1.15 billion—found in the government's own data, say a coalition of environmental groups that reviewed the numbers.
It was no secret the EPA acts a little fishy when it comes to coal ash, but come on.The environmental groups that produced the report found flaws that escaped the White House Office of Management and Budget—the office that forced the EPA to include a weaker proposal for coal ash regulation last spring. Those flaws include:
• About half of the coal-ash recycling benefits claimed by EPA are based on assumptions that substituting fly ash for 15 percent of U.S. cement production would cut fine particle emissions by more than 26,000 metric tons per year. But the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation has estimated that the entire cement kiln industry releases just over 15,000 metric tons per year, and projected emissions already would decline to about 3,500 metric tons by 2013 when separate Clean Air Act standards for that industry take effect.
• EPA estimated that recycling fly ash in cement kilns saves $4.9 billion in energy costs in the analysis prepared for the coal ash rule. But the Agency's Office of Radiation, in analysis developed to support the separate and more far-reaching Clean Air Act standards, estimated total energy costs for the entire industry at no more than $1.7 billion.
The report was presented yesterday by Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and the Stockholm Environment Institute's U.S. Center based at Tufts University.
The Kentucky Courier-Journal sums up the problem with the EPA's overblown numbers: "the more valuable the waste, which includes ash used in cement and gypsum that goes into wallboard, the less likely the EPA will take the risk of stigmatizing products by categorizing a key ingredient as hazardous."
The Courier-Journal reports that even the president of the American Coal Ash Association was "surprised" at the $23 billion figure, saying his own group claims up to $10 billion in economic benefits from coal ash recycling.
The EPA is still weighing proposals for coal ash regulation, one of which will categorize coal ash as hazardous waste (therefore restricting options recycling, an option the industry doesn't like). The proposal favored by industry would not.
With the release of this report, Environmental Integrity Project Director Eric Schaeffer said, "All evidence suggests that strict regulation of coal ash disposal sites will encourage recycling, as industries seek to avoid the higher disposal costs."
More on coal ash
Two Years After the Tennessee Spill, Coal Ash Still Pollutes Nationwide
Coal Ash from Tennessee Spill Shipped to Poor County in Alabama
EPA Claiming Coal Ash Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Not In My Backyard: Coal Ash Landfill (Video)