Something You Can Do to Up the Ante on Carbon Emissions

I’ve written before about the obstacles to getting a carbon emission cap passed by the US Senate. Here’s the other side of the story – something you can do on your own - a way to up the ante on carbon emissions without having to cajole myopic Senators from coal-producing states (who are, after all, a minority in this country).

The EPA is soliciting comment on rules governing carbon emissions, i.e. waste products created by burning coal. The courts have given the EPA jurisdiction over greenhouse gasses directly. But even before that, the EPA had authority to regulate carbon emissions from coal that contained mercury, lead, and other undesirable compounds and elements. They're getting closer to doing it. Clamping down on these toxic emissions will make the true cost of burning coal felt by the industry.

But there’s <a href=””>another carbon emission</a> that the EPA should regulate, and that is coal ash. This is hard core toxic stuff. Significant amounts of lead and mercury remain in the ash, along with arsenic, cadmium, and selenium. These toxins have been associated with cancer, birth defects, stomach ailments, fish kills, and livestock deaths. But despite this, ash disposal remains a sort of unregulated wild west of an industry.

Ten years ago, the EPA stated that if states and industry didn’t take clear steps in a reasonable amount of time to protect the public from these threats, then the EPA would step in and do it. Well, ten years seems a reasonable enough time to me. What’s been done?

According to the Environmental Integrity Project, we’ve now got seventy-one of what the EPA calls “damage cases,” as opposed to the six that were reported in 2000. The list of “Potential Damage Sites” has risen to seventy from three, and private studies identified several hundred sites that have not even been investigated yet. Eighty per cent of the sites that were investigated show evidence of damage, i.e toxic leaks into surface water or an aquifer. So the EPA decided to regulate coal ash. Here’s where you come in.

Industry wants coal ash regulated as a non-hazardous waste. You read it right. Industry admits that there are significant concentrations of arsenic, lead, selenium, and other unsavories in the ash, but even though these things were regulated out of paints, toys, gasoline, and household products because of the danger they presented, they apparently aren’t hazardous in coal ash. Or that’s the claim.

Consequently, the EPA has posted two sets of rules to govern coal ash. The first assumes that coal ash is hazardous waste, or “special waste” in industry parlance. (Isn’t that great wording?) The second set assumes that it is not hazardous. You get to comment on which one you think it is! It's public health by plebiscite! And as long as they are going to take a poll to find the answer, you might as well vote.

Go <a href="">here</a>, fill in the boxes, and send a comment. You can even customize your comment. And I herewith give you permission to lift any words you like from this posting to add to your comment. (Just don’t tell anyone at Justmeans that I’m letting you do that.)

Go vote.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Paul Birkeland lives in Seattle, WA, US, and develops Strategic Energy Management Systems for government, commercial, and industrial organizations through Integrated Renewable Energy.