EPA holds final hearing on coal ash rules in Knoxville

EPA holds final hearing on coal ash rules in Knoxville

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6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The 2008 spill of coal ash in Roane County is getting a lot of attention at the Environmental Protection Agency's final public hearing on two proposed rules.

TVA, along with the EPA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, are working to restore the area around the ash spill at TVA's Kingston plant in December 2008.

Ash storage at the Kingston plant failed, spewing an estimated 5.4 million cubic yards of ash and sludge into nearby homes and farmland. Some of the debris also made its way into the Emory River.

"The people of Kingston and elsewhere know that hazardous is the name for coal ash," said Tennessee Interfaith Power and Light Executive Director Rev. Douglas Hunt.

He's one of more than 200 people who testified before the EPA panel.

"Those impoundments themselves are completely unregulated," said Joshua Galperin, a policy analyst and research attorney for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

EPA is proposing to regulate for the first time coal ash to address the risks from the disposal of the wastes generated by electric utilities and independent power producers.

The EPA is considering two possible options for the management of coal ash for public comment.

Both options fall under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

Under the first proposal, EPA would list these residuals as special wastes subject to regulation under subtitle C of RCRA, when headed for landfills or surface impoundments.

In other words, ash would be treated much like hazardous waste.

Under the second proposal, EPA would regulate coal ash under subtitle D of RCRA, the section for non-hazardous wastes.

Coal ash marketers and the people who recycle prefer this option. It would mean more self-regulation by utilities like TVA instead of federal government oversight as outlined in the first option.

"An unnecessary coal ash designation puts all coal ash recycling at great risk," said coal ash marketer Craig Wallace.

He and other people also fear the special waste designation included in the first option would create a stigma, open them up to lawsuits and destroy the industry built on the recycling of coal ash and similar byproducts.

For the most part, ash is used in concrete.

"Special waste is just another way of saying hazardous waste. Subtitle C is intended for hazardous waste so if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck," said American Coal Ash Association Director Thomas Adams.

He also says stronger regulations on coal ash would lead to more ash being stored across the U.S.

EPA officials say each proposal has its advantages and disadvantages, and includes benefits which should be considered in the public comment period.

A Sierra Club representative brought two bins Wednesday with 6,000 comments from the public urging the EPA to classify ash as "special waste."

During a press conference environmental groups held just outside the hearing, Dr. Stephen Smith, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said, "Coal from the cradle to the grave is a dirty business."

EPA added the Knoxville public hearing to its national schedule in September after complaints that people affected by the spill about 40 miles away at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston plant were being overlooked.

Officials with TVA did not testify at Wednesday's hearing. Instead, the utility submitted a comment outlining its response to the Kingston spill.

TVA will send additional documents supporting the option that does not require additional federal oversight.

The utility has 11 coal-fired fossil plants. Seven are in Tennessee, two are in Kentucky and two are in Alabama.

Other public comments will be accepted until Nov. 19.

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