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Beneficial reuse is part of coal-ash cleanup

By Tracy E. Davis

For the Salisbury Post

Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration is committed to protecting North Carolina’s environment through common-sense policies, science-driven decision making and strict oversight of the regulated community. The regulation of coal ash is a significant part of this effort.

North Carolina is well on its way to permanently eliminating the decades-old threat of improperly stored coal ash across the state. In order to accelerate the cleanup process, North Carolina must continue to consider all available options when it comes to the reuse, recycling and environmentally safe storage of coal ash.

Federal and state environmental agencies encourage beneficial use of coal ash because this practice can produce positive environmental and economic benefits. These benefits include the reduced use of fill material that requires land disturbing activity, lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduced cost of coal ash disposal, and improved strength and durability of materials. Coal ash is recycled for use in wallboard, concrete, roofing materials, bricks and highway construction. A survey of electric utilities found that in 2012, at least 39 million tons of coal ash were beneficially used nationwide.

Currently, state officials are providing regulatory oversight for three large beneficial reuse projects in the state.

The first is the Asheville Regional Airport project to reconstruct the airport’s only runway on site. It is one of the largest capital improvement projects in western North Carolina. Construction began in 2007, when the Asheville Regional Airport entered into a partnership with a construction company that specializes in coal ash management. Using approximately 4.5 million tons of coal ash from the nearby Asheville Steam Station, this construction project is nearing completion. The project has saved the airport approximately $12 million and provided Duke Energy an environmentally safe, cost-effective way to permanently store coal ash.

State environmental monitoring and reporting requirements help prevent any negative environmental impacts and state regulators keep a close eye on the projects to ensure they are in compliance with all environmental rules and regulations. For example, in December 2015, state regulators cited the Asheville Airport construction project for permit violations and required immediate corrective action. Inspections revealed there were no negative environmental impacts and the issues were quickly resolved.

The state environmental department has also issued permits for structural fill projects at abandoned clay mines in central North Carolina. The mine reclamation projects will reuse coal ash currently stored in ponds throughout to state so that the ponds can be closed. By reclaiming the mines and safely placing coal ash in them with many layers of protective liners, the environment will be protected and the land will be repurposed for future development.

Governor McCrory helped build the framework for the first law in the nation that requires all coal ash ponds be closed and coal ash to be safely stored to eliminate the threat to public health and the environment. In implementing that law, it is in the state’s best interest to beneficially reuse coal ash because of the many potential benefits including helping to keep energy costs low. North Carolina must continue to explore options for recycling products such as coal ash in ways that are environmentally and economically beneficial.

Tracy E. Davis is director of the N.C. Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources.

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