The Dirty Secret of Coal Ash: It’s in Our Roads


Watch CBS News Videos Online

Last night’s 60 Minutes featured an eye-opening report
(viewable above) on the 130 million tons of coal ash waste generated
every year by the nation’s thirst for energy. The show outlined the
lack of oversight over disposal of the toxic ash, which is routinely
used in the most commonplace of areas: concrete.

In its fact sheet
on fly ash — as the by-products of coal burning is sometimes called —
the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) touts the "economic and
ecological benefits" of using the substance in the asphalt that paves
U.S. roadways.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has joined the effort by partnering with industry interests on the Coal Combustion Projects Partnership, which has the stated goal
of "decreasing greenhouse gas emissions from avoided cement
manufacturing" by using coal ash as an additive — notwithstanding the
emissions that created the coal ash in the first place.

Using
coal ash in local streets, making concrete stronger and cheaper to
produce has become an accepted practice because the mixing process is
thought to trap the toxic ingredients. But in the wake of last year’s
massive coal ash spill in Tennessee, environmental groups are raising questions about possible public health risks and the EPA is signaling it will begin regulating the ash.

A
final decision on new rules for coal ash is expected by December, EPA
chief Lisa Jackson told 60 Minutes yesterday. Still, it’s worth noting
that concrete companies are already pushing back against the idea,
warning that the bills for local transportation projects would swell
even if the EPA continues to consider roads a "beneficial" use for coal
ash.

During Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s
appearance in the House infrastructure committee late last week, Rep.
Howard Coble (R-NC) queried him on the prospect of coal ash regulation.
Coble said:

<

I
also understand that EPA may consider a hybrid approach to regulating
the material so that the beneficial use of fly ash is deemed
non-hazardous but the material that remains would be classified
hazardous. We’ve been advised that if the EPA decides to implement
either of these approaches, concrete producers would have to use an
average of more than 15 to 20 percent more cement per yard of concrete
to replace the fly ash.

Could concrete producers successfully lobby to water down the impact of the EPA’s move? In a city where every industry has sway in the race for campaign cash, it’s certainly possible.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

A Day After Their TIGER Win, Freight Railroads Carve Out More Turf

|
The freight rail industry yesterday claimed the top three awards in the Obama administration’s competition for $1.5 billion in TIGER stimulus grants, with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood singling out train shippers for an online shout-out: (Chart: AAR) You know, although passengers and commuters have human faces, we need to remember that trade depends upon the […]

Buffett’s Bet on Burlington: What Does it Mean for Transport and Energy?

|
The financial world was riveted this morning by billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s move to take full ownership of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad, a $34 billion deal that ranks as the largest ever executed by Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway. Warren Buffett (Photo: Redfin) But what does Buffett’s purchase mean for the nation’s energy […]

Things Are Heating Up!

|
New Bike Plan! Let’s Get Naked and Celebrate! Critical Mass San Francisco, June 2009. I was glad to see “We Are the World” on the ridiculously inadequate Climate Change bill that finally emerged from the corrupt U.S. Congress. Sadly, the bill could only emerge with the support of a number of mainstream environmental lobbyists in […]
STREETSBLOG USA

U.S. DOT Spells Out Priorities For Conference Bill

|
Hint to lonely hearts everywhere: If you’re looking for some correspondence, join the transportation conference committee. Those folks are getting a lot of mail these days. Everyone from the petrochemical industry to environmental and equity groups [PDF] to state DOT officials [PDF] are penning their missives to committee members, asking for everything from expedited project delivery […]
STREETSBLOG USA

Study: Electric Cars Not So Green Unless Powered by Renewables

|
A study by the government of the Australian state of Victoria highlights the limits of electric cars, in isolation, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Victorian government’s ongoing “electric vehicle trial” [PDF] found that electric cars powered by coal may actually produce more carbon emissions than petroleum-fueled cars over the lifetime of the vehicle, from manufacturing […]