In an April 1 Roll Call op-ed, “McCarthy’s Work at EPA Should Start With Backing Off Coal Ash,” Kirk Benson, the chairman and CEO of Headwaters Inc., America’s largest manager and marketer of building products made from coal fly ash, called out the Environmental Protection Agency for the needless and self-inflicted delay of its rule-making to establish national standards for the disposal of coal ash, the second-largest industrial waste stream in the nation. We could not agree more.
We share the recyclers’ frustration and agree that both industry and the Americans living near the more than 1,300 coal ash dump sites deserve regulatory certainty. We couldn’t agree more with Mr. Benson when he wrote, “The coal ash market needs to know the rules of the road, and the public needs to know that appropriate environmental standards are in place for coal ash disposal.”
At a minimum, the numerous dams and landfills communities live by must meet federal standards that guarantee the protection of human health and the environment. The EPA proposed the first-ever federal regulations for coal combustion waste in 2010.
Despite receiving 450,000 public comments supporting federal oversight, the EPA has failed to finalize a protective rule that will ensure the safe disposal of coal ash, protect Americans from another catastrophic dam failure like the 2008 TVA disaster and give the construction market the certainty that coal ash recyclers like Mr. Benson are seeking. Meanwhile, a growing number of citizen lawsuits reflect frustration with federal inaction, including the suit brought by Earthjustice and joined by the recycling industry, which seeks a court-ordered deadline for issuance of a final EPA rule.
Currently, for citizens threatened by coal ash pollutants and recyclers waiting for a federal response, there is no end in sight. The EPA’s delay is looking less like deliberation and more like deliberate disregard for public health, the environment and economic certainty. National coal ash standards are long overdue, and we need the EPA to finalize them now.
Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, and Abigail Dillen, coal program director for Earthjustice