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PSR calls on OMB to release Proposed EPA rule on coal ash

March 15, 2010

PSR met recently with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to urge it to review and release a proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that would tighten up the handling of toxic coal ash.

The OMB is an executive branch office whose responsibilities include ensuring that agency rules are consistent with the President's budget and administration policies.  They have been reviewing the proposed EPA rule since last October.

Coal ash is the residue that remains after coal is burned:  cinders, ash, and the pollution particles that smokestack scrubbers remove from the smoke.  While its precise composition depends on the coal that was burned and the use of scrubbers, typically coal ash contains arsenic, boron, cadmium, lead, mercury, sulfur and other heavy metals and toxic substances, including carcinogens.

The ash is often mixed with water and stored in huge ponds.  When the dam on a Kingston, TN “impoundment area” burst in late 2008, it flooded 300 acres of nearby river valley with thick, toxic sludge.

Dangerous and dirty as coal ash is, it is not currently classified as a hazardous waste.  Thus, federal regulations treat it no more strictly than household garbage.  Instead, its handling and use by industry is left to the states.  The result is a patchwork of storage arrangements that includes, according to the EPA, 44 coal ash sites that would pose a “high hazard” to human life, should their storage dams rupture.

Alan Lockwood, neurologist, professor, and PSR board member, joined E&H director Kristen Welker-Hood and deputy director Barb Gottlieb to urge the OMB to complete its review of the rule so that the EPA can release the rule for public scrutiny and public comment. 

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