EPA Rules on Coal Ash Could Raise Electricity Rates 6%

by | Jul 23, 2010

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New regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could increase electricity rates by 6 percent for some businesses, according to a government press release.

Recycling industry entrepreneurs told a Congressional panel they are concerned new regulations proposed by the EPA could also stop them from converting coal-fired power plant waste into ecofriendly building products.

The toxins in coal ash include arsenic, mercury and selenium.

The EPA is proposing national rules to safely dispose and manage coal ash from coal-fired power plants. The proposed rules would also support beneficial reuse or recycling of coal ash in the manufacture of materials such as cement, concrete and asphalt.

Depending on how those regulations are crafted, coal ash could be regulated like a hazardous waste, a move that has raised concerns among small businesses. Utilities have already begun lobbying the White House on the potential effect of the EPA’s proposed rules.

During a hearing of the House Committee on Small Business’ Rural Development, Entrepreneurship and Trade Subcommittee, witnesses said the rules could raise utility rates and cause layoffs.

Entrepreneurs in the recycling industry said that a hazardous waste classification carries a stigma and would raise liability fears, making it difficult to use coal ash in building materials.

Lawmakers also questioned whether the EPA had evaluated the full impact the proposed rule might have on small businesses. In one exchange with lawmakers, the EPA witness said that stiffer regulation of coal ash could potentially cause a 6 percent increase in electricity rates.

Coal-fired power plants produce nearly half of the power generated in the U.S., creating 136 million tons of coal combustion byproduct called “coal ash” in the process. While it can have negative impacts on the environment and be costly to dispose of or store, entrepreneurs have developed uses for coal ash, recycling 50 million tons in construction products like concrete, cement and gypsum wallboard.

North Carolina businesses testified that coal ash has been used safely in concrete mixes by their state’s highway department for two decades because it makes building materials stronger, while reducing construction costs by $5 million a year. Rural electric utilities in the state have also invested in scrubbers, which reduce power plant emissions by capturing the ash.

The EPA’s proposed rule was released in late June and public comments are being accepted until September 20.  During today’s hearing, Shuler said he was preparing legislation to help address entrepreneurs’ concerns.

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