A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to regulate coal ash as a “hazardous waste” could make concrete more expensive and less durable, thus increasing the costs and environmental footprint of key transportation improvement projects, says Nick Goldstein, vice president of environmental and regulatory affairs for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).
“Every element of the transportation construction process, from the suppliers of concrete to the contractors who handle construction materials would be affected by the stigma of a ‘hazardous waste’ label for coal ash,” Goldstein said at an Aug. 30 EPA hearing. “Specifically, because of the increased expense of handling a ‘hazardous waste,’ the producers of coal ash would be resistant to continue providing it to concrete manufacturers.”
The transportation sector’s use of coal ash has been an environmental success story, Goldstein says. “According to EPA’s own data, coal ash accounts for between 15 and 30 percent of the cement in concrete. Further, EPA has noted using coal ash at this level results in annual greenhouse gas reductions in concrete production of between 12.5 and 25 tons and an annual reduction in oil consumption between 26.8 and 53.6 million barrels.”
In 2008 alone, more than 12.5 million tons of coal ash was used in the production of concrete. Goldstein noted a variety of transportation projects, including the following:
- Colorado, where the use of coal ash in 2008 reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 19,500 tons;
- Indiana, where the state department of transportation is able to use an average of 42 percent of the coal ash generated on recycled construction material;
- North Carolina, where the use of coal ash is saving $5 to $10 million annually on transportation projects;
- Texas, where the annual savings from coal ash is estimated at $16 million; and
- Minnesota, where coal ash was used in the concrete for the new I-35 bridge replacement.
Goldstein told EPA officials that on four separate occasions, in 1988, 1993, 1999 and 2000, the agency found that coal ash did not warrant regulation as a “hazardous” waste. He said there has been no new scientific information presented since these prior reviews that would warrant EPA’s reaching a different conclusion now.
“We take great pride in the environmental successes the transportation sector has been able to achieve through the recycling of coal ash,” Goldstein concluded. “ARTBA urges the EPA to allow these achievements to continue and even grow by rejecting the option of regulating coal ash as a ‘hazardous waste’.”