Last December Senator Richard Burr co-signed a letter to the EPA requesting that they not designate coal ash as a hazardous waste material. The letter expressed that the costs of the reform would be a burden on utility companies and eventually the average consumer. The Senator seems to be ignoring the blatant dangers associated with coal ash ponds. With this said, there are some valuable points to be discussed.
First we should address the cost issue. In June 2009 the New York University Law School published an in depth cost/benefit analysis on coal ash regulation. The outcome of the study showed that the cost of not regulating coal ash exceeded the cost of regulating it. They estimated that the average cost of upgrading each ash pond would be somewhere between $11 and $20 million per unit. To put this in comparison the cost of cleaning up the Tennessee Kingston disaster is predicted to reach $975 million. The study shows that as these facilities age the probability that they may rupture increases. With over 400 coal ash ponds in the US and 10 rated "high hazard" in North Carolina it makes you wonder why Richard Burr is calling for weak regulation.
The danger associated with coal ash is possibly the most important aspect. In a 2007 EPA risk assessment, researchers showed that ash ponds are 40 times more likely to have higher cancer risks from arsenic exposure than similar landfills. This is due to the fact that coal ash contains a number of dangerous chemicals, including arsenic, lead, boron and mercury. 67 reports of groundwater and surface water contamination have been reported in 23 states, 2 of these in NC. Exposure to these substances can lead to cancer and damage to the nervous system. Unfortunately, without strict federal guidelines that name coal ash as a hazardous material, water will continue to be contaminated and our citizens and environment will bear the real cost of unregulated coal ash.
At this time, some House members are supporting more stringent regulations on coal ash ponds. In a letter to EPA officials Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) and a number of his colleagues, including North Carolina's David Price called for the EPA to take a number of steps that would ensure the safety of our citizens. The letter requests that the EPA halt the construction of new impoundments and equip existing ponds with appropriate liners, while also mandating groundwater monitoring for each site. We hope that Senator Burr will follow the lead of Rep. Price and recommend strict regulations on coal ash. Since North Carolina has the most ash ponds rated "high hazard", it's a shame Senator Burr is not more concerned with this issue.
Please call Burr's office and urge him to support regulation that recognizes coal ash as a hazardous material. 202-224-3154