Michigan Coal Ash Regulations, Part 2: Laws Are Complex

The devil, it is often said, is in the details.

This truism is broadly applicable in many difference contexts. And one of those contexts is certainly environmental regulation.

In the first part of this post, we began discussing the debate about the regulation of coal ash and other industrial byproducts in Michigan. There are concerns about finding the right balance between encouraging reuse of such byproducts and preventing the possible spread of toxic chemicals that could result from doing so.

As we noted in our May 24 post, the Michigan House of Representatives recently passed proposed legislation that would formalize the regulatory criteria for allowing reuse of certain bio-waste materials. The Michigan Senate has passed the proposal as well.

The legislation appears to open the possibility that coal ash - the residue from coal burned to generate electric power - will be used as a filler material in road construction. Another possible use is as a fertilizer supplement in an agricultural setting.

Environmental advocates, however, remain concerned. They contend that coal ash contains toxic metals such as lead and arsenic that can cause water contamination and other harmful effects.

In other words, the Michigan Legislature's recent action to allow "beneficial use" of coal ash does not necessarily settle the matter definitively.

After all, there are other state requirements that apply to solid-waste management. There are also numerous federal laws that regulate the handling of hazardous waste.

The interaction of these laws creates considerable complexity. It is therefore important for construction contractors and others facing environmental regulation issues to carefully consider all of their options.

An attorney who is knowledgeable about land-use and environmental laws can explain those options and help affected parties come to a decision about how to proceed.

Source: WKAR, "Michigan may authorize new uses for toxic coal ash," Kevin Lavery, June 13, 2014

Additional source: Midwest Energy News, "Michigan seeks to expand use of coal ash, but at what cost?" Andy Kalaskovitz, May 19, 2014

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