Energy Company Buys Up Land Around Coal Waste Ash Site

At the point where Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio come together, FirstEnergy Corp is buying up residential properties around its coal ash waste reservoir.

The local news is playing it as a loss of community issue – the properties are abandoned as residences. 78 families have been bought out.

One wonders why.

What lies there now is the country’s largest unlined coal ash impoundment, stretching over 900 acres and contained by a 400-foot tall, 2200-foot long rock-and earth dam, according according to a site survey prepared for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2009. …

Lisa Graves Marcucci, the Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for the Environmental Integrity Project, said it’s logical to think the most recent buying binge had to do with the expansion plans.

“We don’t know the ins and outs of why,” Graves Marcucci said. “We can presume that they might have bought some of the property either for an expansion, which they had tried to do of the facility a few years ago.

“We also believe that as the pollution has migrated out of the site into local areas,” she added. “We wonder if maybe some of the purchases may have been because of the movement of pollution into private water wells.”

“Not in my back yard” is a problem, but it’s easy to see how people become NIMBY focused. The presence of a big energy-related concern near your back yard (as opposed to somebody else’s) can be a pretty unfortunate thing.

We under-regulate, underpay for energy, and offload the externalities in a giant game of Russian roulette.

Local resident Sabrina Mislevy

said she didn’t even know Little Blue Run was a coal ash waste dump until residents started to collaborate with the Environmental Integrity Project, an activist group that has threatened to sue FirstEnergy on behalf of residents.

“I didn’t even know this was what it was until the community got together with EIP,” Mislevy said. “(EIP informed us that coal ash) was being pumped into (Little Blue Run) and especially the expansion that they wanted to do, which meant we would lose our agricultural zoning.”


  1. Interesting. I know of a company planning to import fly ash from Japan for use as a supplementary cementitious material (i.e., replacing a portion of the portland cement in concrete). Fly ash is the primary component of "coal ash" which is a mixture of fly ash precipitated in the stack and bottom ash. Fly ash comprises far and away the largest component of coal combustion residue from a coal fired power plant. Fly ash has so-called "pozzolanic properties." Such a "mix design" (as it's known in the industry) has many beneficial properties. Among these are workability, pumpability, reduced heat of hydration, increased resistance to the dreaded "alkali silica reaction." It also has some drawbacks that modern admixtures can largely remedy. Most important among these is reduced strength both at the 28 day typical design period and at early ages. The best cure for these is another industrial byproduct - ground granulated blast furnace slag in a "ternary mix" (portland cement, fly ash, slag). In such a mix, as much as 50% or even more of the portland cement can be replaced with these byproducts. This is a large environmental benefit because portland cement is a HUGE double whammy on CO2 emission, since immense heat, typically from fossil fuels, is used to literally cook CO2 out of limestone in the cement manufacturing process. And, in fact, such agencies as Caltrans and Los Angeles Community College District are requiring the use of such mix designs for CO2 emission reduction reasons.

    There are two firms who sell fly ash to California ready mixed concrete suppliers. It's generally imported by rail from Arizona and Utah coal fired power plants. It typically sells for about the same price as an equivalent weight of portland cement, sometimes even more, something on the order of $75/tonne. I'm sure the economics are worked out by people much sharper than I with respect to utilization as opposed to impoundment, but one wonders....

    I don't know if this would be considered to be hijacking the thread, if so, my apologies. But I do know that "the industry" is concerned about the availability of fly ash under a potential new EPA classification.

  2. Not off topic at all.

    If coal waste is being reused that is better than otherwise, of course.

    On the other hand, we read that it is an "unlined facility" which perhaps has been grandfathered. The company may choose to expand this operation because risky operation has somehow been grandfathered in.

    In any case we have two serious problems - a suspicious public that can jump to any conclusion about any industrial process on the one hand, and a cagey private sector trying to cut any corner it can get away with on the other.

    We are so far from the environment of mutually earned trust that we need...

  3. Indeed we are and indeed they are (cagey, that is). I got an email just today asking for our financial support and for us to sign on to a letter in support of HR 2218, the "Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act of 2013." The email was from Thomas Adams, the President of the Fly Ash Association.

  4. The contents of HR 2218 are described in the document, at least as the Association interprets it. I can forward the email and its attachment to you tomorrow if you like, but I suspect you'll find it to be pretty "ho hum." Basically, it calls for coal combustion products to be treated in the same was as MSW (municipal solid waste) and prevents it from being classified as "hazardous waste."

    Unsurprisingly, the bill was filed by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) but is described as having bipartisan support.

  5. What would be the analogue of this, for social networks of individuals acting against a deep-pocketed entity's interests, and what strategy would that entity be best off following? How about if you're one of the nodes; do you differentially rely on those adjacent to you, or should you differentially discount them because they're the most likely to have been compromised?

  6. Game theory as it exists tends to focus on two-person games, for one thing.

    For another, in these situations the objective of the large player is clear (money) while the objectives of the smaller players are complex, with money among them.

    A gamelike model of the situation might be fruitful, However, so far we don't know exactly what the corporation is up to or why. My idea that the site is valuable because it has limited environmental regulation grandfathered in is just speculation so far.

  7. John Nash proved that games with several players have a stable solution provided that coalitions between players are not allowed.

    Ain't politics interesting?

  8. Pingback: Another Week of Climate Disruption News, July 21, 2013 – A Few Things Ill Considered

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.