Regional and national clean energy advocacy groups united Wednesday to release a report suggesting that cleaning up hazardous coal ash in the Ohio River Valley could benefit the area economically as well as environmentally.
The new report makes the case that fully remediating coal ash disposal sites would create more jobs and protect communities as more coal plants close in the region amid the nation’s clean energy transition.
The economic analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a national science advocacy nonprofit, and the Ohio River Valley Institute, a Johnstown, Pennsylvania-based nonprofit think tank, cited case studies of two coal ash sites in Kentucky and Ohio finding that full remediation of the sites would create more than $100 million in additional economic activity in each state.
The analysis relies on public documents from utility closure plans, coal ash site conditions, economic modeling and alternative closure plan development.
“My excitement about the report is because you just have so much of an opportunity to create so much benefit to the people in the communities that we’re talking about,” said Marion County native Jeremy Richardson, a senior energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists who coauthored the report.
Those communities are economically vulnerable coal communities where coal ash — waste left behind when coal is burned to produce electricity — is a common threat to human health.
Approximately 102 million tons of coal ash was produced in 2018 alone, according to the American Coal Ash Association, an organization that promotes the environmentally responsible use of coal ash as an alternative to disposal.
Coal ash contains contaminants like arsenic, cadmium, chromium and selenium associated with cancer, heart disease, liver and kidney damage. Coal ash is frequently disposed of in surface impoundments or landfills or released into nearby waterways, often under a plant’s water pollution permit.
The analysis notes that more than one out of every five coal ash disposal sites nationwide can be found at operating or retired coal-fired power plants in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana.
The report calls for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen its enforcement of a 2015 rule that established closure requirements for coal ash disposal sites under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and finalized minimum criteria for groundwater monitoring and corrective action.
The report emphasizes holding utilities and coal ash disposal site owners responsible for fully remediating such sites.
“[R]atepayers should not bear the costs without reaping the economic value of full cleanup,” the report says.
The Public Service Commission on Tuesday approved $448.3 million in rate recovery for Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power for coal ash disposal and other environmental upgrades federally required to keep three in-state coal-fired power plants operating past 2028.
The report also calls for prioritizing dislocated workers in hiring.
Representatives from the Ohio River Valley Institute, nonprofit environmental law group EarthJustice, left-leaning nonprofit think tank Policy Matters Ohio and the ReImagine Appalachia coalition of environmental and community organizations across the region highlighted the report in a press conference and webinar Wednesday.
“Pollution cleanup is essential to ensuring that these areas become places where people can safely live and work,” Amanda Woodrum, senior researcher with Policy Matters Ohio, said.