iStockphoto/Thinkstock

DCL

Accuracy shouldn't seem like a lot to expect from the EPA, yet Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) resorted this week to filing a formal complaint with the agency for publicizing false information about coal ash, saying it reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, there's no question that coal ash, the byproduct of coal combustion, is extremely both dirty and toxic. But in politics, the harm that we acknowledge coal ash can bring to communities and the environment seems to be negotiable.

The EPA is currently weighing new regulations on coal ash and is considering whether or not to classify it as hazardous waste—even though some of the opposition is pretty transparent. But PEER says the "EPA has a formal promotional partnership with the coal industry to expand use of coal ash and other coal combustion wastes in products such as cement, wallboard, carpet backing and consumer products such as kitchen counters and even cosmetics and toothpaste."

Part of this promotion includes claims that because coal ash substitutes for virgin materials, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions—overlooking its own conclusion that coal ash "may not be an efficient method for reducing overall emissions" of greenhouse gases and may actually produce a net detrimental impact.

As PEER explains:

One huge fallacy is that EPA claims generally omit any mention of the massive amounts of greenhouse gases emitted in mining and burning the coal to produce the ash. Many of the EPA assertions are made without reference sources, methodology or qualification....

"Coal is our biggest source of greenhouse gases. It is the height of absurdity to contend that the toxic wastes produced by coal combustion help our atmosphere," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that EPA recently suspended the coal ash promotion campaign (called the Coal Combustion Product Partnership or C2P2) while it considers whether to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste.

EPA has 90 days to respond and if it rejects the complaint, PEER could file an administrative appeal that would mandate a three-member executive panel be formed to review and make a final decision on the issue.

Demanding the EPA clean up its website and publications (check out one example [PDF] of the environmental benefit claims), Ruch said, "EPA is guilty of false advertising. Using taxpayer dollars to mislead the public adds insult to the injury.