The Environmental Protection Agency’s coal ash tour is heading to Chicago after hundreds of people jammed into a Charlotte hotel on Tuesday for a public comment session.

Being discussed are two regulatory options for dealing with coal ash. Coal ash is a byproduct of coal energy production that is often stored near power plants and often in a liquid form. In 2008, the Tennessee Valley Authority Coal Ash Disaster spewed more than 1 billion gallons of ash water, destroying parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama.

One of the two regulatory options being discussed is a requirement for all ash ponds have a protective liner. The other option is a more stringent policy in which coal ash, and the water version of it, would be classified as toxic. 

Environmentalists at the Charlotte forum invoked safety concerns as reasons for supporting the more stringent policy. "I can only imagine what it's like for the parents of the 1.5 million children who live near these sites and depend on drinking water and bathing water," local Sierra Club member Mary Anne Hitt said in a speech captured by a local television station.

To get a good understanding of coal ash, you should check out Uta Meyer’s piece from earlier in the week on MNN. But the Cliff Notes version is that coal ash is said to contain arsenic, selenium, lead and mercury. Despite this, the EPA does not consider the substance hazardous.

The coal energy industry remains opposed to both options, but it especially opposes the idea of classifying coal ash as hazardous. A hazardous or toxic classification would increase the cost of coal ash products like concrete. Thus, as is always the threat, the increased cost of production would be handed over to the consumer. This is exactly the argument a spokesperson for Duke Energy made to the Charlotte Observer used after Tuesday’s meeting. 

More meetings are on the horizon. Beyond the next stop in Chicago, the public meetings will head to Pittsburgh and Louisville before the month is over. 

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