Greens say EPA analysis on coal ash riddled with errors

An analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the costs and benefits of regulating the disposal of coal ash is riddled with errors, environmental groups alleged Wednesday.

The EPA cost-benefit analysis, environmentalists fear, will lead the agency to impose less stringent standards on the substance, a move they say would disregard the potential health effects of coal-ash exposure.

The allegations come two years after a coal-ash pond in Kingston, Tenn., ruptured, dumping more than a billion gallons of the potentially toxic substance in the surrounding area. The disaster led the EPA to initiate an effort, still ongoing, to regulate coal ash, a byproduct of the burning of coal.

At issue is whether the EPA will regulate coal ash as a hazardous or a non-hazardous waste. Environmentalists have been calling for regulation as a hazardous waste, which would require a number of additional safeguards, while industry groups have said the substance should be regulated as a non-hazardous waste.

The environmentalists say the EPA cost-benefit analysis greatly overstates the benefits of coal-ash recycling, a process by which coal ash is used to make a number of common products like wall board. In overstating the benefits, the agency is perpetuating the idea that more stringent coal ash regulation will make it harder to recycle the substance.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call Wednesday, officials from the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, which reviewed the EPA cost-benefit analysis, laid out their concerns.

EPA’s analysis is “full of mistakes large and small,” said Frank Ackerman, senior economist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, which also reviewed the EPA analysis.

“The largest error is the overstatement of the benefits of coal-ash recycling” and the underestimation of environmental and health concerns, Ackerman said.

Ackerman conducted a separate analysis that found “the sum total of all the changes creates a stronger case for strict regulation than there is in EPA’s original version,” he said.

Abigail Dillen, staff attorney at Earthjustice, stressed that EPA has yet to make a decision on how it will regulate coal ash, but raised concern that the agency is “painting itself into a corner” with its analysis.

While the groups are not taking legal action regarding the analysis, Dillen suggested the groups could use their findings in a future lawsuit if the EPA decides to regulate coal ash as a non-hazardous waste.

An EPA spokesperson did not respond immediately to a request for comment.