Producers, marketers, environmentalists, physicians, neighbors, power companies, towns, Chambers of Commerce and even churches have numbered among the thousands of speakers and attendees packing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s eight-week series of public hearings on its proposed rules on Coal Combustion Residuals.
With just one hearing left to go—on Oct. 25 in Knoxville, TN—the EPA is reporting extremely strong attendance and speaker turnout for the first seven hearings, which began Aug. 30 in Virginia.
Between 150 and 200 speakers have addressed each hearing, and total attendance (speakers and audience) has topped 400 for many hearings, an EPA spokeswoman said.
The Proposed Rule for Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals [CCRs] from Electric Utilities, published June 21 in the Federal Register, addresses regulation of fly ash, bottom ash, boiler (coal) slag, and flue gas desulfurization sludge from coal-burning power plants
At issue for the protective and marine coatings industry is beneficial use of coal slag as an abrasive.
The proposed rule calls for public comment on two approaches available under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
One approach would regulate CCRs destined for disposal as special waste under Subtitle C and create a comprehensive program of federally enforceable requirements for waste management and disposal. The other would continue to manage CCRs as non-hazardous waste under Subtitle D, but establish specific performance standards for waste management facilities receiving CCRs.
EPA would not say which way the majority of public comments on the issue have been leaning thus far. Speaker lists have included a wide range of passionate foes and defenders of each approach.
On Tuesday (Sept. 28) morning, the environmental group Greenpeace made its presence known at the hearing in Louisville, KY, by unfurling a large banner (“EPA: PROTECT PEOPLE, NOT POLLUTERS”) on the outside of the Seelbach Hilton, where the hearing was underway.
Other speakers Tuesday included representatives of Charah Inc., a Louisville-based ash management provider; the University of Kentucky, Center for Applied Energy Research; Progress Energy; the NAACP; the Ohio State University; the town of Labadie, MO; the Citizens Coal Council; Boral Material technologies; the United Church of Christ; and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).
All of the comments the agency has received on the proposal thus far (except for those from the public hearings) are available for the public to see at www.regulations.gov, key word EPA–HQ–RCRA–2009–0640.
The hearing locations, concentrated in the eastern half of the United States, were selected to ensure broad public representation on the controversial proposals, the EPA said.
“EPA considered a number of factors when selecting the locations to hold the coal ash public hearings,” the agency said. “These factors included feedback from the public on where to hold the hearings, proximity to coal-fired power plants and disposal sites, proximity to mass transportation hubs, and proximity to EPA Regional Offices. EPA also sought to ensure that different geographic regions of the country were represented by the locations selected.”
For example, the Knoxville location chosen for the last hearing “is within an hour drive to the site of the December 2008 catastrophic spill from a Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash impoundment in Roane County, TN,” EPA notes.
EPA also studied demographic data on the people who live in affected communities, so that “more people in impacted communities will be able to give their comments.” The agency estimates that:
• 256 of the 495 coal-fired power plants (52%) had surrounding low-income population percentages that exceeded their state low-income percentages.
• 138 of the 495 plants (28%) had surrounding minority population percentages that exceeded their state minority percentages.
Once the comment period closes on Nov. 19, the agency will evaluate all comments received before making a final decision.
The official transcripts from the hearings are being generated and will be posted on the www.epa.gov/coalashrule website as well as in the official docket. The agency will use the official transcripts when reviewing the comments received during the hearings.