A newly appointed National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel that will study the environmental impact of disposing coal combustion waste in mines is rife with members who have ties to the mining, coal and electric utility industries, according to 42 environmental organizations. The committee meets for the first time tomorrow.
Six of 14 members on the panel are tied to industries or themselves have a direct financial interest in the outcome of the committee's deliberations, according to a letter sent today to the NAS by the Clean Air Task Force, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI),the Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council and 38 other groups. The groups say the NAS should immediately remove the two members with direct conflicts of interest and balance the remaining committee by adding at least four experts who have researched the environmental impacts of coal combustion waste.
Congress asked the NAS to study the impact of disposing of millions of tons of industrial waste from coal burning power plants in U.S. coal mines. Industry claims the disposal is safe, but many scientists point to significant damage from coal combustion waste when toxic chemicals from the ash escape to water. Coal ash can leach 17 heavy metals, including arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium, selenium, as well as boron, sulfate and chloride. The Environmental Protection Agency says the results of this study will help determine the regulations that control the dumping.
"Common sense dictates that mining-industry insiders would not be the best people to evaluate this practice in an impartial way," said Merrill Goozner, director of the Integrity in Science Project at CSPI. "If your career is devoted to making things easier for the mining industry, you're not going to like new environmental regulations no matter what the science says."
According to the groups, the appointments of at least two members, Edward Green and Patricia Ridgeway, run afoul of the Federal Advisory Committees Act (FACA), which prohibits the appointment of people with significant conflicts of interest to government panels unless the conflicts are unavoidable and immediately disclosed. Those two members are:
Others on the panel having ties to industry include Thomas O’Neil, former CEO of Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company and Cliffs Mining Company, former high-ranking executive of Cyprus Amax Minerals Company, and a former board member of Hecla Mining Company; and Patricia Buffler, a scientific advisor to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and consultant for PG&E. Lastly, Robert Sweigard and Y.P. Clugh, two mining experts employed by universities, have both produced or overseen extensive research promoting use of coal combustion waste but have not pursued the question of environmental impact. These two scientists should be balanced by those who have actively investigated the leaching potential and adverse environmental impacts of this waste, according to the groups.
"The committee is grossly unbalanced and that violates federal law," says Lisa Evans, senior attorney for the Clean Air Task Force. "There are two sides to the story. If you are seeking fair mediation of a contentious issue, you wouldn't just invite one side. Regrettably, that's what the NAS is doing."
The 42 groups include Public Citizen, Environmental Integrity Project, Waterkeepers Alliance, Citizens Coal Council, Hoosier Environmental Council, Clean Water Action and Army for a Clean Environment.For more information, contact: Center for Science in the Public Interest