AEP / Coal / Coal Ash

Coal-ash spill scars Tennessee as rules fight rages

The 5.4-million-cubic-yard torrent from a slurry-filled pond owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority created a moonscape of mounds residents dubbed “ashbergs.”

KINGSTON, TN — “While the Tennessee spill was ‘unacceptable,’ the ash should be treated as nonhazardous waste, said Pat Hemlepp, a spokesman for Ohio-based American Electric Power, the largest U.S. coal user. That would protect the public ‘without causing unnecessary costs in an already struggling economy,’ he said.

Calling it hazardous waste, Hemlepp said, would ‘simply raise the cost of electricity.’

One estimate by the industry’s Edison Electric Institute in Washington estimated that regulating ash as hazardous would cost between $1.7 billion and $5 billion per year over 20 years — figures environmental advocates call hyperbole.

The EPA says power companies would pay $1.5 billion per year to handle it as hazardous waste, compared with $587 million if the states enforce rules for nonhazardous substances.

That option is so much cheaper, said Lisa Evans, a lawyer with the Oakland, California, environmental group Earthjustice, because the EPA assumes that many states will do nothing.

In any case, both rules are in limbo: EPA Director Lisa Jackson has said the agency will make no decision until at least 2012.”

— Margaret Newkirk, Businessweek

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