Burning coal in power plants produces a waste product called coal ash, a material that contains small amounts of potentially harmful chemicals. Environmentalists in the United States are concerned about the damage such harmful chemicals may be doing to the environment and suggest that the United States government should create new, much stricter regulations for handling and storing coal ash.
However, representatives of power companies take the opposite view: they argue that new regulations are unnecessary and might actually have negative consequences. They use the following arguments to support their position.
First, power company representatives point out that effective environmental regulations already exist. For example, one very important regulation requires companies to use liner—special material that prevents coal ash components from leaking into the soil and contaminating the surrounding environment. Companies that dispose of coal ash in disposal ponds or landfills must use liner in every new pond or landfill they build.
Concerns About Recycling Coal Ash
Second, some analysts predict that creating very strict rules for storing and handling coal ash might discourage the recycling of coal ash into other products. Currently, a large portion of coal ash generated by power plants is recycled: it is used, for example, in building materials such as concrete and bricks. Recycling coal ash reduces the need to dispose of it in other ways and presents no environmental danger. However, if new, stricter rules are adopted for handling coal ash, consumers may become concerned that recycled coal ash products are just too dangerous, and may stop buying the products.
Finally, strict new regulations would result in a significant increase in disposal and handling costs for the power companies—perhaps as much as ten times the current costs. Power companies would be forced to increase the price of electricity, which would not be welcomed by the general public.