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Recycling industry entrepreneurs on July 22 told a key Congressional panel they are concerned new regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could stop them from converting coal-fired power plant waste into safe, eco-friendly building products. During a hearing of the House Committee on Small Business' Rural Development, Entrepreneurship and Trade Subcommittee, witnesses said the rules could raise utility rates and cause layoffs.
"Utilization of coal combustion waste in products like cement can reduce the need for other raw materials, lower production cost and reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Subcommittee Chairman Heath Shuler (D-North Carolina). "With a balanced policy approach that promotes the beneficial use of coal ash, we can help preserve our environment, while creating new opportunities for small businesses."
Coal-fired power plants produce nearly half of the power generated in the U.S., creating 136 million tons of coal combustion byproduct called "coal ash" in the process. While it can have negative impacts on the environment and be costly to dispose of or store, entrepreneurs have developed safe uses for coal ash, recycling 50 million tons in construction products like concrete, cement and gypsum wallboard. North Carolina entrepreneurs testified today that coal ash has been used safely in concrete mixes by their state's highway department for two decades because it makes building materials stronger, while reducing construction costs by $5 million a year. Rural electric utilities in the state have also invested in scrubbers, which reduce power plant emissions by capturing the ash.
"Innovative North Carolina entrepreneurs are working hard to help reduce pollution and replace the jobs we've lost to outsourcing by creating good-paying jobs here at home," Shuler said. "It's important to foster green industries that put people back to work and promote a healthier environment for our children and grandchildren."
The EPA is proposing new regulations for coal ash aimed at addressing safety and environmental concerns. Depending on how those regulations are crafted, coal ash could be regulated like a hazardous waste, a move that has raised concerns among small businesses. During the hearing, entrepreneurs in the recycling industry said that a hazardous waste classification carries a stigma and would raise liability fears, making it difficult to use coal ash in building materials. Lawmakers also questioned whether the EPA had evaluated the full impact the proposed rule might have on small businesses. Assuming that 100% of the costs of the proposed rule would be passed on to electricity consumers, the Regulatory Impact Analysis estimated that the average nationwide increase would be 0.795 percent, with local markets increasing anywhere from 0% to 5.5822%.tes.
"Small businesses involved in the recycling, handling and transportation of coal ash stand to suffer serious economic harm if the EPA doesn't get this right," Shuler said. "I agree that we need strong and enforceable regulations at the federal level for coal ash storage and disposal. I want to work with EPA on a solution to provide better environmental protection without the economic damages of regulating coal ash like a hazardous waste – when it really isn't."
The EPA's proposed rule was released in late June and public comments are being accepted until September 20. During today's hearing, Shuler said he was preparing legislation to help address entrepreneurs' concerns.
Video of the July 22 hearing is available by clicking here.