Utilities Fight EPA Coal-Ash Regulation

by | Jan 11, 2010

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smokestacked2There may be trouble ahead for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule to regulate coal-ash from power plants, as environmental groups report a number of industry meetings on the coal-ash issue within the Obama Administration, indicating that utilities and other companies are gaining a lobbying advantage in the White House, reports The Wall Street Journal.

In October last year, the EPA announced it was considering the regulation of coal ash as toxic waste, several months after a spill of 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry at the Kingston power plant operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The toxins in coal ash include arsenic, mercury and selenium.

In a separate action, EPA also has identified three industries — including coal products manufacturing (including refineries and not coal mines), chemical manufacturing, petroleum and the electric power generation, transmission, and distribution industry — that could face financial assurance requirements to ensure that the owners or operators of the facilities, not taxpayers, will be responsible for cleanups.

Cass Sunstein, Obama’s regulatory czar, who directs the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has held nearly 20 meetings with industry groups since October to discuss the potential impact of proposed EPA rules to treat coal ash and other coal byproducts as hazardous waste, according to White House records, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Watchdog groups told The Wall Street Journal it is unusual for the OMB to be involved so early in the process, particularly since the EPA has not published its proposed new regulations for coal ash, according to the article.

Utility companies argue that a federal hazardous-waste ruling would result in significant logistical challenges and potentially billions of dollars in new costs, while other industries believe the ruling could jeopardize the use of coal ash in construction materials such as cement mix and wallboard, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The Electric Power Research Institute, a power-industry research organization, told OMB that utilities could lose between $5 billion to $10 billion of revenue annually if they couldn’t sell coal combustion byproducts to industry, along with the potential shut down of 250 to 350 coal units and increased electricity costs, reports The Wall Street Journal.

In response, environmentalists say these estimates are a scare tactic intended to weaken the proposed rule, according to the article.

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