EPA scolded for website that appeared to endorse coal ash products

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An Environmental Protection Agency website about products made from coal ash failed to disclose contamination risks and gave the improper appearance that the agency was endorsing some products, according to a new watchdog report. The EPA and its employees are strictly prohibited from endorsing commercial products.

Coal ash, the residue produced by coal-fueled electricity plants, is one of the most controversial regulatory issues now before the EPA. The lack of federal oversight of coal ash disposal was the subject of a 2009 Center for Public Integrity investigation, which found that metals from the material can leak into drinking water sources. The EPA earlier this year proposed two approaches to regulating coal ash, and has yet to finalize what the agency will do.

The EPA inspector general said that the agency’s Coal Combustion Products Partnership website lauded the beneficial uses of coal ash for concrete, road embankments, and agricultural uses. Missing from the website was information detailing the environmental damage resulting from large, open pools of coal ash, the watchdog said. The EPA logo also appeared alongside 23 coal ash products, giving the appearance of agency approval, when the products were actually submitted by academic and industrial sources.

“The agency’s website presented to the public incomplete information” especially in regard to “actual damage and potential risks,” the inspector general said. The EPA has removed most material from the website, citing its rulemaking now underway.

FAST FACT: In December 2008, nearly 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash waste burst out of a Tennessee Valley Authority containment area into about 300 acres of surrounding farmland and rivers in an environmental disaster the TVA has estimated will cost at least $1.1 billion to clean up.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities. Congressional Research Service reports, which prepared for lawmakers but not made public, were provided by the Center for Democracy and Technology.

ENVIRONMENT

  • Coast Guard faces challenges from receding Arctic ice, which is expected to lead to more shipping traffic and oil and gas exploration in the region. (GAO)

NATIONAL SECURITY

  • After eating up $7.1 billion in costs, the Pentagon’s missile production program continues to be delayed and riddled with problems. (GAO)

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