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Recycling Coal Ash October 6, 2009

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in coal ash, recycling.


Albeit indirectly, Lesley Stahl’s segment of 60 Minutes (4 October 2009), reposted by CommonDreams.org raises two issues that, in my opinion, are very important. The first point is that recycling coal ash is not the panacea that the power industry would like it to be. I believe that the U.S. environmental movement has pushed the slogan “reduce, reuse, recycle” to such an extent that many people believe that most things we use can be recycled. This is not so and coal ash is an example of why everything we use can not be reused or recycled.

There are two great metaphors for the way we think about time: arrows, or time with direction; and cycles, time that endlessly repeats itself. When these two metaphors are combined, we have a realistic way to think about time–cyclic repetition with a difference. The 60 Minute piece brings to my mind the need to focus not preferentially on the cycles of time (and change) but the direction of changes as well. If we do this, we might have a positive and enduring approach to environmental change.

The second point passes in the moment when Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the U.S. EPA, states that she has no data that indicate the safety of certain products made with coal ash (e.g. school room carpeting). The good news embedded in Jackson’s statement is that the Precautionary Principle appears to be Jackson’s point of departure. This is a major change from the way that U.S. society has approached environmental risk in the past, when proof of harm falling on the shoulders of victims was the starting point for changed environmental regulations. Her statement indicates that the Obama Administration is shifting instead to proof of safety being borne by those who advocate “beneficial reuse” of  purportedly innocuous substances before they are ‘repurposed’.


1. Marya Zilberberg - October 7, 2009


Excellent post! Yes, I too have noticed the shift in this positive direction toward precautionary principle as the baseline. Looks like the EPA is even poised to re-evaluate and perhaps rewrite TSCA. About time!

BTW, posted some pics on the duck blog just for you guys!

2. RecycleBill - October 28, 2009

As one who works in the recycling industry I’m always taken back at those who think recycling should be the first option. When you recycle something it means that you have exhaust all the better options.

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