Coal Tattoo

Coal ash update: Regulations make economic sense


Real regulation of toxic ash from coal-fired power plants would not only protect the environment, but would make economic sense. That’s the conclusion of a new report issued today by New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity.

The report, called No More Excuses,  outlines these key findings:

— If coal ash were required to be stored in dry conditions and in synthetically lined, covered facilities, many health risks would be avoided in addition to reducing the likelihood of a major spill like the one in Harriman, Tenn. (See photos above and below)

 — In broad strokes, it is clear that the benefits of regulating coal ash storage facilities would far outweight the costs.

— The benefits of a regulation could save tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars per storage facility.


The report estimates the potential compliance costs of coal-ash regulation as between $11.2 million and $20.4 million for an average disposal facility.

As for benefits, the study outlines two major areas:

The first is the reduced probability of catastrophic leaks of coal ash waste. The second is the reduced exposure to toxic chemicals for people who either live near storage facilities or eat fish taken from waters near storage facilities. These are only two of many possible benefits, but data limitations make calculating precise values for those other benefits difficult or impossible.

The report notes that TVA estimates its potential cleanup costs at Kingston at between $525 million and $825 million, not including litigation costs, fines, etc. (don’t forget — TVA ignored some improvements to its coal-ash impoundment that could have avoided this mess at a cost of just $25 million).

As the report notes, benefits of such regulations are often more difficult to figure than compliance costs. But here’s what the report came up with:

Benefits from the reduced probability of failure are between $160,000 and $6 million, depending on the discount rate and failure rate used in the analysis.

The benefits of reduced chemical leaching from storage units is even more difficult to calculate, but appears to be at least $75,000 per affected mile36 and as much as $875 million per affected county.

In conclusion, the report says:

The primary finding of this brief is that, under any reasonable
assumptions, regulations to require safer storage of coal ash waste
will likely produce far more benefits than costs. Further, the
regulations will save tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars per
facility. When total benefits are calculated for the several hundred
facilities that operate nationwide, stricter regulations to control coal
ash storage are likely to generate net benefits of billions of dollars.