According to a recent report [pdf], the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has overestimated the economic benefits of recycling coal ash by twenty (20) times. The EPA's estimate of $23 billion in annually economic benefit appears to have been based off of flawed methodology, contrasting with the federal government's own data suggesting an actual $1.15 billion annual total. The report was released by the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and the Stockholm Environment Institute at Tufts University.
As DeSmogBlog and PolluterWatch revealed in late October, lobbyists hired by coal companies and associations spent a full four months lobbying officials from the EPA and the White House Office of Management and Budget to prevent proper regulation of coal ash before the American public was given a formal chance to add its voice. These meetings, which were off-record, may actually have been illegal under the Administrative Procedure Act.
The lobbyists that attended these meetings include Bill Tyndall of Duke Energy, John Pemberton of Southern Company, Anthony Kavanagh of American Electric Power, and Patrick Quinn, who represents several coal clients through his firm, the Accord Group.
...perhaps they had something to do with EPA's drastic miscalculation?
Coal ash slurry, which is a combination of water and materials leftover from the coal combustion process, contains ingredients that can cause cancer and brain damage as well as radioactive elements. The toxic sludge is often stored in open impoundments (huge ponds) or injected into abandoned coal mines, causing major concern over drinking water contamination. Some of these storage ponds have actually broken through their earthen dams, most recently demonstrated by the disastrous 2008 spill at the Tenessee Valley Authority's Kingston facility, which sent over a billion gallons of coal slurry into the community and river system below.
Yet coal ash is still not formally considered "hazardous" by the EPA, and is therefore still less regulated than household garbage.
More can be found at the Charleston Gazette.
Background on the coal industry's lobbying to prevent regulation can be found in DeSmogBlog/PolluterWatch report, Coal-Fired Utilities to American Public: Kiss My Ash [pdf].