EPA Finds Ash Recycling Program Violated Ethics Rules

Date: October 15, 2010

Source: US EPA Office of Inspector General

A report by the EPA's Inspector General concluded that the agency violated its own ethics policies by misleading the public on the risks of reusing coal ash while simultaneously considering new regulations for disposing of the waste. The report takes issue with EPA's Coal Combustion Products Partnership, an agency-industry partnership started during the previous administration that encourages the reuse of coal ash and other byproducts of burning coal. EPA suspended its participation in the program last year when it began crafting federal rules on coal ash disposal that would replace programs run by individual states. However, the program website remained active for nearly two months after EPA unveiled its proposed regulations. The Inspector General's report says EPA failed to disclose potential risks of some types of coal ash reuse that it had identified while evaluating proposed regulations.

The report comes as EPA considers two options for a final rule regulating coal ash disposal. One would regulate ash as a hazardous waste that would set new more stringent requirements for storing and monitoring the waste in dry landfills; the other option would classify the waste as nonhazardous, setting federal disposal guidelines but leaving enforcement to the states and citizen lawsuits. Of the 136 million tons of coal ash and other coal wastes generated in 2008, about 45 percent was reused. Industry worries that regulating it as hazardous would discourage continued beneficial reuse as end users would be wary of potential liability.


Website for Coal Combustion Products Partnership Conflicts with Agency Policies
Report No. 11-P-0002

October 13, 2010

What We Found

EPA's C2P2 Website presented an incomplete picture regarding actual damage and potential risks that can result from large-scale placement of CCRs. In its May 2010 proposed rule, EPA showed that environmental risks and damage can be associated with the large-scale placement of unencapsulated CCRs. According to EPA's proposed rule, unencapsulated use of CCRs may result in environmental contamination, such as leaching of heavy metals into drinking water sources. The proposed rule identified seven cases involving large-scale placement, under the guise of beneficial use, of unencapsulated CCRs, in which damage to human health or the environment had been demonstrated. EPA states in its proposed rule that it does not consider large-scale placement of CCRs as representing beneficial use. However, EPA's C2P2 Website, which contained general risk information, did not disclose this EPA decision and did not make the seven damage cases readily accessible.

The C2P2 Website also contained material that gave the appearance that EPA endorses commercial products. Such an endorsement is prohibited by EPA ethics policies and communications guidelines. We identified 9 of 23 case studies on the Website that reference commercial products made with CCRs or patented business technologies. All 23 of the studies were marked with EPA's official logo but none had the required disclaimer stating that EPA does not endorse the commercial products.

Although EPA has suspended active participation in C2P2 during the rulemaking process, the C2P2 Website remained available for public searches, information, and education. The C2P2 Website contained incomplete risk information on the beneficial use of CCRs. The C2P2 Website also contained apparent or implied EPA endorsements that are prohibited by EPA policies.

What We Recommend

We recommend that EPA remove the C2P2 Website during the rulemaking process. Since our initial communication with EPA on June 23, 2010, EPA has removed access to the C2P2 Website content; however, documents relevant to the rulemaking are available in the docket. We further recommend that EPA identify why actions prohibited by EPA policies occurred and implement controls to establish accountability. EPA agreed and proposed actions to address the recommendation.

Why We Did This Review

We initiated a review to Partnership Conflicts with Agency Policies determine whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) followed standard practices in determining that coal combustion residuals (CCRs) are safe for the beneficial uses EPA has promoted. Our review identified issues that require immediate action by EPA. The results from this report will be included in our final report on the safe use of CCRs.


CCRs are generated from burning coal. Since 2001, EPA has been promoting the beneficial use of CCRs through the Coal Combustion Products Partnership (C2P2). EPA has maintained a public C2P2 Website and has used other means to promote the beneficial uses of CCRs. On May 4, 2010, EPA released a proposed rule to regulate CCRs.

For further information, contact our Office of Congressional, Public Affairs and Management at (202) 566-2391.

To view the full report, click on the following link:

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