The Good --and the Not-So-Good -- about John Edwards’ Fly Ash Bill (SB 865)

This diary is cross-posted at Article Xi Preserve and Protect .

Disclosure: I am a strong supporter of State Senator John Edwards, probably always will be. I have even made a small donation to his re-election campaign. He has a good record on environmental issues. But, despite his effort at some improved oversight and constraints on fly ash from coal-fired plants, I must concur with the Roanoke Times (RT) editorial here that he has missed the mark.

Senate Bill 865 would require a solid waste permit from the state DEQ to use coal ash in a 100-year flood plan. This has particular relevance for localities such as Giles County, where a precariously located pile of fly ash sits (in a flood plane). But the bill does little to regulate other fly ash.

The problem is also that fly ash is particularly capable of acting as run-off. Although fly ash is often recycled, in its unaltered version it is left in huge piles, often only to endanger land, wells, creeks, streams and rivers. As we unfortunately learned from the recent Tennessee (TVA) fly ash disaster, you have to worry about fly ask, period. But some citizens of Giles have sounded the alarm long before that. It may be the most recent disaster which motivated the re-introduction of this bill. Edwards, however, had the foresight to first file a version of this bill last year.

Back then, he, along with De. Anne Crocket-Stark (R-Wytheville), filed bills to address Giles County concerns over Cumberland Park, where 254,000 cubic yards of coal ash sits in a flood plane. today, Edwards has noted that both Appalachian Power and Virginia Power were on board with the bill. Huh? If that is true, then the bill probably doesn't do much. I would rather see a bill which does the right thing rather than seeks to gain the by-in of some of the regulated, who after all, fight regulation they dislike with every fiber of their being. So, the bill is better than the status quo, but it does not go nearly far enough.

Enter the Roanoke Times to show the shortfalls of the bill. It correctly notes that if fly ash is used for “beneficial use” (i.e., as construction fill or along highways), there is no regulation of its disposal at all. Edwards bill, the RT notes, would not have prevented the 1.5 million tons of fly ash, which has become a potential Superfund site at the Battlefield Golf Club at Centerville in Chesapeake. Contamination has leached into groundwater there. The RT is right. It appears that, though Edwards bill achieves one goal, it neglects other equally important and equally deserving of inclusion in any meaningful control of fly ash in our environment.