Let N.D. manage coal wasteWaste from power plants demands serious attention. North Dakota’s coal-fired plants, regulated by the state and monitored by the Health Department, have a history of responsible citizenship when it comes to waste.
By: The Bismarck Tribune, The Jamestown Sun
Waste from power plants demands serious attention. North Dakota’s coal-fired plants, regulated by the state and monitored by the Health Department, have a history of responsible citizenship when it comes to waste.
Perhaps it’s because of the important legislation written in the 1970s regarding coal mining, reclamation and power plant operations. The state was proactive in defining how the lignite-related industries would behave right from the beginning. Those regulations were the result of hard-fought hearings and debates. There was no easy pass.
The Environmental Protection Agency, however, has begun drafting a coal-waste rule. It comes in response to the horrific breach in a coal ash impoundment near Knoxville, Tenn., late in 2008. It will cost the federal government $1 billion to clean up the mess.
Coal waste isn’t necessarily hazardous waste, a possible definition in the EPA rule writing. And Tennessee isn’t North Dakota. One-size-fits-all federal regulations would be unwise in dealing with coal waste. And classifying it as a hazardous waste would go too far, without significant environmental or health benefit.
Ironically, at the same time EPA considers bringing coal waste into the hazardous waste category, it’s encouraging farmers to spread on their fields waste from the scrubbers of coal-fired power plants in the eastern United States. It improves the soil. That use of coal waste has been tested successfully on a small scale by Great River Energy in western North Dakota.
Also, such a classification could have a profound impact on recycling other coal wastes, such as fly ash, scrubber waste, bottom ash and clean coal slag. These byproducts are used in making such things as concrete, roofing shingles and roads, for soil stabilization and as a sandblast media and abrasives, among other things. About 10 percent of the 3.3 million tons of coal waste created annually by North Dakota power plants is used as a recycled byproduct. The rest goes into lined pits that are monitored with ground wells and inspected several times a year by the state.
North Dakota’s coal industry needs to continue to find additional ways to make good economic use of coal waste.
The heavy metals that can occur in coal waste do not typically reach the concentration at which they would constitute a hazard. But those wastes are monitored for such a circumstance.
The visitors center at Fort Mandan near Washburn is a model of the use of recycled coal waste byproducts. There’s fly ash in block walls, concrete, the ceiling tile and every other possible element of the modern structure.
The EPA should, in its rule writing, allow North Dakota to manage and regulate coal waste in this state until it’s proven incapable of doing so. The EPA should not classify all coal waste as a hazardous material, only that coal waste which exhibits heavy metals that pose a health risk. It’s a case of relying on good science, solid engineering and effective regulation by state government.