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Stimulus Goals, Grants Bind Epa On Fly Ash, Cement Rules

The Environmental Protection Agency is weighing coal ash handling and cement production rules that could hamper raw material flow in 2011 and beyond just

Don Marsh, Editor

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The Environmental Protection Agency is weighing coal ash handling and cement production rules that could hamper raw material flow in 2011 and beyond Û just as demand for concrete nears what is projected to be a sustained, upward clip. Industry observers stress potential fallout if the agency designates fly ash and other coal combustion products as hazardous waste and subjects certain cement plants to pollution control investments difficult to justify in any economy.

Prompted by prospective rules and environmentalists' agitating over coal ash, a new advocacy group under Headwaters Resources veteran John Ward Û Citizens for Recycling First Û will counter moves threatening the material's use in construction. The December 2008 failure of a (non-concrete grade) coal ash impoundment in Tennessee triggered environmentalist outcry, the group notes, yet EPA remains favorable to ash recycling in concrete. Citizens for Recycling First contends that a hazardous label in disposal settings could jeopardize constructive uses. The current debate over coal ash disposal regulation is too often portrayed as a battle between industry and the environment, adds Ward. [We] will show that many individuals support the safe and environmentally beneficial use of coal ash as a preferred alternative to disposal.

Backing up Citizens for Recycling First efforts, a major political development has emerged to temper EPA rule making. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), whose signing was the subject of first-year anniversary recognition last month, has spurred at least two new fly ash-centered projects: Our cover subject, CalStar Products' Fly Ash Brick/Paver plant (pages 10-11), qualifies for more than $2 million in stimulus-backed tax incentives. The company's intellectual property hinges on the ready availability of concrete-grade, stigma-free ash. CalStar's plant is an outlet for Class C product from a Wisconsin Energy power station and, as noted by an ARRA supporter no less than Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI), a good example of the state's capacity to grow green jobs.

Down the Lake Michigan shore from the unique masonry operation is a fly ash-focused recipient of direct stimulus dollars. The U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology has awarded from its ARRA funding pool $1.5 million to Northwestern University for Science of Concrete Û Fundamental Models that Enable New Technology for Expanded Use of Fly Ash. Based at the main Evanston, Ill., campus, the three-year project will involve partners Princeton University, University of California, Berkeley, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Û the latter housing the new Portland Cement Association/RMC Research & Education Foundation Concrete Sustainability Hub. In their proposal to NIST, researchers noted that greater use of fly ash in concrete will reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions associated with portland cement production.

If EPA goes overboard on a coal ash-handling rule, ARRA critics could justifiably seize on stimulus projects rendered moot by agency overreaching. What might really put White House and Capitol Hill stimulus champions on the spot, however, would be misguided regulatory steps resulting in the domestic cement industry shuttering perhaps 10 percent of capacity. An authority on pending regulations paints a dire picture in a study released in mid-February (Maguire Institute report, page 8), concluding: A loss of a small number of cement plant jobs would have a rippling effect into other areas of the economy and nullify intended ARRA investments.

How many negative outcomes on stimulus-related matters can EPA officials and their boss be willing to defend?