The rhetoric has been hot at the EPA's public hearings for a new proposed rule restricting fly ash disposal. There were so many people at the hearing in Chicago on Sept. 16 that the public comments continued through the scheduled breaks. About 250 spoke from morning until almost midnight.

Earlier this year, in the wake of a 2008 coal ash containment pond collapse in Tennessee, the EPA announced it was considering two proposals. Subtitle C is the most stringent and would be enforced by federal officials. It is favored by environmental groups. Subtitle D is self-implemented, would be enforced through citizen lawsuits, and is favored by the concrete industry.

People representing several environmental and special interest groups were there: Alliance for the Great Lakes, People In Need of Environmental Safety, Earthjustice, Detroit Green Party, Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, and Clean Water Action. The Sierra Club had a hospitality suite down the hall from the public hearing. Many speakers and audience members wore stickers that said, "Protect Families: Clean Toxic Coal Ash."

The concrete industry was represented by Lionel Lemay, senior vice president, sustainable development, at NRMCA; Scott Bundrant, Independent Concrete Pipe Co.; Terry Peterson and John Scoffan, Boral Material Technologies; David McDonald, managing director, Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute (CRSI); Jeremy Rusticus, Ozinga Ready Mix; Michael Murtha, president, Florida Concrete and Products Association; David Diedrick, Lafarge North America; and Joseph Weishaar, Stark Excavating. Thomas Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association, also spoke in support of Subtitle D.

"Our firm is concerned how our industry impacts the environment," Meishaar of Stark Excavating in Bloomington, Ill., told the hearing. The contractor and road builder manufactures 70,000 yards of concrete per year and buys another 70,000 for various road construction projects. "Coal ash is an important part of the concrete industry," he said, adding that a 20% fly ash mix saves $1.35 per yard in the cost of concrete.

"Concrete is an essential component of the national infrastructure and almost no construction can be made without it. It is used for buildings, bridges, schools, hospitals, pipelines, and dams. Many of these structures are owned by the public and many contain coal combustion products," said CRSI's McDonald. "The implementation of Subtitle C will result in less fly ash being used in concrete and more material stored in coal dams, increasing risks to the public and reducing use of it in concrete."

Representatives of several utility companies and others also supported Subtitle D. "New regulations under Subtitle D will protect human health and the environment," said John Ward of Citizens for Recycling First. He urged more recycling: "Fly ash doesn't qualify as hazardous waste based on its toxicity. Quit throwing fly ash away."

Not surprisingly, the special interests and environmentalists spoke up. One woman told the four EPA representatives, "It's sad we have to testify to get federal rules to protect our children. Babies are dying in our neighborhoods every day. Fish are dead and the river is green and bubbling."

A representative with Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment added: "I don't want our water supply being worse than that of a third world country. Terrorists can sit back for a few more years. We're destroying ourselves. The human body can only repair so much damage."

In making its decision, the EPA will have to separate science from the flamethrowers. "I urge the EPA to consider the facts, not fear and rhetoric," said Cathy Woolums of MidAmerican Energy Holding Co.

There are three more public hearings: Sept. 21 in Pittsburgh; Sept. 28 in Louisville, Ky., and one more in October in Tennessee. (The date and location have not been determined.)

Also, anyone can submit written comments until Nov. 19. Visit www.regulations.gov, enter the keyword "EPA-HQ-RCRA-2009-0640" and click "Search."