James Kotcon: Coal Ash Amendment Friendly Only to Polluters
5 July 2012
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Aaron Gillispie, director of the Materials
Control, Soils and Testing Division for the state Department of
Transportation, made some serious errors in his commentary on coal
ash (June 25).
It is certainly true that we need to repair and replace aging
highways and bridges. It is also true that using coal ash in an
environmentally responsible way can provide an economical
substitute for concrete, while reducing the greenhouse gas
emissions. And it is certainly true, as Gillispie stated, that
using coal ash in road paving is better than letting it seep into
our streams and rivers.
Where Gillispie erred is in the illogical leap in asserting that a
recent House amendment to the pending federal transportation bill
"provides sensible environmental safeguards" for coal ash.
The House amendment actually prohibits the EPA from regulating
coal ash impoundments. The EPA's proposed rules apply to coal ash
disposal in landfills and impoundments, like the one that broke
open and flooded homes along the Clinch River in Tennessee in
December 2008, or the one that gave way into Lake Michigan earlier
this year. The rules specifically exempt beneficial uses of coal
Much of the coal ash in West Virginia is dumped into landfills or
impoundments with inadequate monitoring or environmental
protections. A number of the coal ash landfills in West Virginia
are rated as hazardous because of the potential for loss of life.
Worse, many are leaking arsenic, lead or high levels of other
pollutants. But the House amendment would prohibit adoption of
needed rules to protect our water and our neighborhoods.
Worst of all, contrary to Gillispie's assertions, the House
amendment will actually hurt recycling and beneficial uses such as
in highways by encouraging the continued use of these
impoundments. A Tufts University study found that a strong coal
ash rule would create 28,000 jobs. But dumping the ash into
unlined fills where it comes into contact with water ruins
billions of tons each year, preventing reuse while exposing the
people downstream to the leaching of these toxins.
And therein lies the real reason for the House amendment to the
transportation bill. That amendment is nothing more than an effort
to shield coal companies and utility profits by giving them an
unprecedented ability to pollute with impunity. Under the House
amendment, coal ash would be less regulated than the household
garbage you set out on the curb, even though the health risks from
coal ash include cancer, neurological disorders, asthma and birth
Claims that this encourages recycling are nothing more than
green-washing, a smokescreen to use the word "recycling" while the
real intent is to protect polluting industries and the politicians
who get their campaign contributions.
Gillispie is wrong. Senators Rockefeller and Manchin need to
insist on a clean transportation bill, one that funds needed
transportation without unwise polluter-friendly amendments.
Kotcon is chairman of the Energy Committee for the West Virginia
Chapter of the Sierra Club.