The Environmental Protection Agency is considering a proposal to re-classify coal ash– a byproduct of coal power plants– as a hazardous waste. Doing so would move its regulation under the federal government’s control, and away from individual states. South Carolina’s top environmental agency does not want the change and has sent a letter to the EPA urging them to reconsider.
The Department of Health and Environmental Control oversees coal ash output in South Carolina. In its letter, the agency says:
Federal regulation would create unnecessary duplication, confusion and barriers that would not result in any greater environmental or public health protection.
Spokesman Adam Myrick says there’s no need to change how regulations are enforced.
We feel like any additional regulation by the EPA really is unnecessary. We’ve got a program in place here in the state. We feel like it adequately handles it and we feel like the regulation needs to stay here at the state level.
Proponents say the EPA could create stricter standards for the removal of toxins found in the ash, such as arsenic and cadmium.
The EPA asked states for input in the matter. DHEC’s letter urges the EPA to continue allowing states to regulate the coal ash. If not, the agency warned that many possible recycling methods may not continue. For instance, some coal byproducts are used in cement, including concrete used on the Arthur Ravenel bridge in Charleston.
Utilities that operate South Carolina’s 12 coal-fired plants are also concerned. South Carolina Electric & Gas spokesman Robert Yanity says the reclassification would mean that the plants might not be able to recycle the ash they create. He also says the limited number of hazardous waste landfills presents another problem.
There are only so many hazardous waste sites across the country… The closest one to us would be in Alabama. There’s actually currently not a hazardous waste site that… we could truck it to here in South Carolina. So there’d be all kinds of additional costs.
Environmental groups have often criticized the amounts of harmful toxins in the ash. Yanity says the end product is disposed of safely.
One thing that has to be put in perspective is the amount of those various elements that are in the ash. There are trace amounts, certainly, and it has to be dealt with, but it’s not the level that certain groups would have you think.
Yanity says any new regulations– especially any that required the ash to be transported to hazardous waste landfills out of state– would cost power companies money, which they would have to pass on to customers.
That cost has to be borne by somebody. If you increase the cost of any product to produce it, ours being electricity, the cost has to be borne by someone. Unfortunately, that may have to come down to our customers.
The EPA is awaiting feedback from states before it makes a decision.