Power Plants, Residents Weigh in on Coal Ash Plan

By Beacon Staff

DENVER – More than 100 speakers signed up to comment Thursday on whether the Environmental Protection Agency should regulate the disposal of coal ash under rules for hazardous waste.

Several power producers told the EPA that such regulation could threaten jobs and raise electricity rates, while business owners said it could affect their livelihoods.

But some ranchers and residents from New Mexico and Montana who live near coal ash waste ponds said they’re worried for their health and that it’s time for tough federal regulation.

The disposal of coal ash gained national attention after 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash at a Tennessee Valley Authority plant breached a dike and spilled into and around the Emory River in 2008.

The EPA has proposed measures such as requiring liners and groundwater monitoring at new coal ash landfills, but it’s trying to decide between two options for implementing the rules.

One option is for direct federal enforcement, under rules for hazardous waste. The other option is to regulate under rules for non-hazardous waste. The second option relies on lawsuits by states and citizens for enforcement.

Coal ash, which is left over from the burning of coal at power plants, contains such substances as arsenic, cadmium and mercury.

The EPA isn’t looking to end its “beneficial use” in concrete, roofing or other applications, but some business owners fear the stigma of coal ash being regulated as a hazardous waste will be enough to discourage people from recycling it in that manner.

David Goss of McDonald Farms Enterprises Inc. in Longmont, Colo., helps utilities manage their ash. One utility customer recently asked his company to obtain liability insurance of $6 million to protect against lawsuits, then asked for indemnification if any ash were to be included in even “beneficial uses,” he told the EPA.

Goss estimated that regulating coal ash as hazardous would triple his company’s insurance costs. He pushed for regulation as a non-hazardous waste.

Sheep rancher R.G. Hunt Jr. of Waterflow, N.M., scoffed at the notion that coal ash should be regulated as non-hazardous. His family blames the nearby power plant in the Four Corners area for sullying their water, which in turn killed 1,400 of his sheep and harmed his family’s health, from drastic weight loss, to muscle spasms, kidney trouble, diarrhea, headaches, and hair and memory loss.

His wife, Carla Logan, said six family members died before the age of 40, with doctors saying their health problems could have been linked to heavy metal poisoning in the water.

“Have a glass of it,” Hunt told the EPA. “I guarantee you it’d make you want to puke.”

Paul Reynolds of Sunflower Electric Power Corp. of Hays, Kan., said regulation under rules for non-hazardous waste would still offer the same level of protection for health and the environment, without the economic burdens to power producers who might have to raise rates or cut jobs to fulfill requirements under hazardous waste rules.

For instance, Kansas law prohibits landfill disposal of certain hazardous wastes, meaning his company would likely have to ship it out of state, he said.

Regulation under rules for hazardous waste wouldn’t allow for flexibility in liners or managing leaching to allow for local soil conditions, precipitation and distance from surface water either, he said. “The one-size-fits-all approach unnecessarily ties the hands of state regulators,” he said.

Outside the hearing, a handful of people held signs with the words “coal ash” crossed out. Inside, some people with opposing views wore buttons that said, “Recycle first.”

The EPA plans more hearings before making a decision.

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