Today is the National Day of Action on Coal Ash, an effort by environmental advocates and concerned citizens to urge the Environmental Protection Agency to release its promised rule regulating disposal of the toxic byproduct of burning coal for electricity -- and to classify the stuff as hazardous waste.
The effort comes the day after revelations from the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility that EPA has for years allowed coal ash industry representatives to edit official government reports, brochures and fact sheets about coal ash to remove references to potential dangers and to emphasize alleged benefits.
"For most of the past decade, it appears that every EPA publication on the subject was ghostwritten by the American Coal Ash Association," says PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who examined thousands of communications between the industry and EPA. "In this partnership it is clear that industry is EPA's senior partner."
During the Bush administration, EPA entered into a formal partnership with the coal industry -- especially the ACAA -- to promote the use of coal ash for industrial, agricultural and consumer products. The deal helped develop a multi-billion industry that is now fighting efforts to regulate the coal combustion byproducts -- which contain dangerous levels of heavy metals and other toxins -- as hazardous waste.
The documents obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act show how the industry was able to make a number of changes. They included removing cautionary language from an EPA brochure about applying coal ash on agricultural lands and replacing it with what the industry called "exclamation point ! language" "re-affirming the environmental benefits."
The industry also got EPA to alter official fact sheets and Power Point presentations to delete references to certain potential "high risk" uses of coal combustion waste, and it lobbied to insert language about the need for "industry and EPA [to] work together" to weaken or block "state regulations [that] are hindering" expanded use of the waste.
In addition, EPA staff gave the industry advance notice about conference calls and other agency deliberations, including discussions about growing concerns over the leaching of arsenic from the coal ash. PEER notes that the working relationship between the EPA and the industry is so close that an industry insider joked to EPA staff in an October 2008 e-mail about a news article about mercury contamination from coal ash, writing:
"We are in bed with the EPA again, it looks, at least according to this article. The advocacy groups are well organized and have the ready ear of the press."
In an effort to counter the industry's lobbying efforts against more stringent regulation of coal ash, environmental advocacy groups have organized today's action. They're calling on concerned citizens to contact President Obama and tell him the EPA should treat coal ash as hazardous waste, and to ensure that residents of communities impacted by coal ash disposal get to have a say in how the material should be handled.
For more information about the National Day of Action on Coal Ash, click here.