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McAteer to Testify Before Congress

Tue Feb 10 2009

Davitt McAteer, CEO of the Center for Educational Technologies® and the National Technology Transfer Center at Wheeling Jesuit University, will testify on Capitol Hill Thursday about how the Coal Impoundment Project might provide some guidance on environmental and safety issues for ash ponds as Congress moves forward with investigating the issue.

McAteer is presenting information on the project to the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources of the National Resources Committee, chaired by Congressman Nick Rahall of West Virginia. McAteer will testify at 10 a.m., and the hearing (Bill #HR493) will be broadcast live on the web. After entering the site, click on the Hearings and Markups tab on the left panel and then click on Energy and Mineral Resources.

Coal waste is expected to increase in the coming years, as the demand for energy grows. This hearing will address the need to ensure the safe disposal of coal ash in impoundments, like the one which collapsed in Kingston, TN, in December. The Kingston facility is one of more than 600 similar dumps across the United States. Of that number it is estimated that 300 are impoundments.

West Virginia is no stranger to coal waste disasters. In 1972 more than 125 people were killed and more than 1,000 homes destroyed after a sludge pond burst near Buffalo Creek in Logan County. On Oct. 11, 2000, an impoundment failed in Martin County, KY, sending 4 million gallons of sludge into the creeks and rivers of West Virginia and Kentucky.

Coal slurry is a precombustion waste product from the preparation plant where noncombustible materials are removed from the mined coal before it is transported to the power plant. Coal ash, on the other hand, is a postcombustion waste product captured by pollution control devices from the flue gases of coal burning power plants. It is currently disposed of in wet or dry impoundments or piles.

Federal, state, and company inspections along with early warning and evacuation plans are key to saving lives and protecting the environment. That is why in 2003, with the help of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, the National Technology Transfer Center and the Center for Educational Technologies developed the Coal Impoundment Project.

The website lists the locations of coal impoundments in West Virginia as well as five other states. People can access real-time information about emergency situations and evacuation plans. In addition to the website, the project's representatives are reaching out into communities and industry, seeking input on current conditions, assessing reactions to hypothetical problems such as an impoundment failure, and researching technological advances. Experts are also partnering to find alternatives to the use of coal impoundments as well as identifying new technologies to recycle coal waste and collect field data at impoundments.