House votes to give states control over coal ash

WASHINGTON (AP) - House Republicans pushed through legislation
Friday that gives the states the power to regulate coal ash from
power plants as if it were municipal garbage, pre-empting pending
federal regulations that could be much tougher.
The vote on coal ash disposal was the latest of several passed
by the GOP-controlled House that would shift authority away from
the Environmental Protection Agency and reduce federal regulations
that Republicans say are burdensome, hamper economic growth and
cost jobs.
Other bills have dealt with toxic emissions from power plants,
cement plants and incinerators. Like those bills, the coal ash bill
is unlikely to be considered in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Under the measure, sponsored by West Virginia Rep. David
McKinley, states would have to apply the same regulations to coal
ash that they use for municipal garbage. Generally, that means it
would have to be put in landfills that have liners to protect
groundwater, monitors to test water for contamination and equipment
to control dust. The bill would not cover coal ash sitting in
surface ponds or impoundments now. The vote was 267-144, with 37
Democrats voting "yes."
McKinley said his legislation was "a jobs bill and a public
health bill; protecting the livelihoods and the health of our
working men and women are not mutually exclusive ideas." His
office pointed out that, unlike the other GOP-sponsored EPA bills,
the White House had not issued a veto threat and that 14 Senate
Democrats had expressed support for the bill's approach.
The Environmental Protection Agency is currently considering
several options on how to regulate coal ash, from giving it a
special status as a hazardous waste so it could still be recycled
to classifying it as a solid waste, which comes with fewer
requirements. The industry has said that even a solid waste
classification would prompt the closure of some existing coal ash
ponds and landfills, costing jobs and raising energy bills.
"The results of EPA's regulations would have been devastating
on the effects of jobs, higher utility rates at home, and cripple a
very successful emerging biproducts industry," said Rep. John
Shimkus, R-Ill., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee's
environment and economy panel.
The bill allows the EPA to get involved if a state chooses not
to act or the agency finds the state program deficient. But the
White House said it strongly opposed the bill, saying it was
insufficient to address the risks of coal ash disposal and
undermined the federal government's ability to ensure requirements
that adequately protect human health and the environment.
Without a minimum federal health standard, "the result will
inevitably be uneven and inconsistent rules by the states; some
states will do a good job, others will do a poor jobs," said Rep.
Henry Waxman of California, top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce
Committee. "And when they do a poor job, the public will pay the
The EPA's role in coal ash increased after a 2008 spill from a
disposal pond at a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant in
Kingston, Tenn., flooded hundreds of acres of land, damaged homes
and killed fish in nearby rivers.
A federal survey conducted after the spill found the toxic
leftovers of burning coal for power at nearly 600 sites in 35
states. Spills have occurred at 34 of those sites over the past
decade, the agency said. Without federal guidelines, regulations of
the ash disposal vary by state. Most sites lack liners and have no
monitors to ensure that ash and its contents don't seep into
underground aquifers.
Over the years, the volume of waste has grown as demand for
electricity increased and the federal government clamped down on
emissions from power plants.
In 2001, the EPA said it wanted to set a national standard for
ponds or landfills used to dispose of wastes produced from burning
Ash is produced in the burning of coal and is caught by
scrubbers required to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide.
The coal ash regulation is one of a host of environmental
regulations targeted by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in a
memo to House Republicans in August.
But unlike previous bills, which target regulations the EPA has
either proposed or finalized, the agency hasn't made any decision
on coal ash. An inspector general's report released earlier this
year found that the EPA promoted the reuse of coal ash in wallboard
and as filler in road embankments without properly assessing the
environmental risks.
Coal ash contains arsenic, selenium, lead and mercury in low
concentrations. But like many other types of energy waste - such as
drilling muds - is not classified as hazardous under waste laws.

U.S. Congressman Harold "Hal" Rogers (KY-05) supported the passage of bi-partisan legislation to halt the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) job-killing regulatory agenda. The Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, H.R. 2273, establishes minimum federal requirements for the management and disposal of coal ash that will protect public health, ensure safety of the environment, and protect American jobs. It was passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 267-144 and now awaits consideration by the Senate.

“From day one, the Obama Administration has attempted to shut down coal mines, coal plants, and yes, even environmentally-friendly coal waste. Today, we said, ‘Enough is enough’ by passing the bi-partisan Coal Residuals and Reuse Management Act,” stated Rogers, a member of the Congressional Coal Caucus and an original co-sponsor of H.R. 2273. “This bill ensures that coal will continue to be an affordable part of our country’s energy supply, while also ensuring that leftover ‘coal ash’ can be recycled for use in our roads, bridges and buildings. This legislation protects public health and the environment while also keeping our country’s lights on. It’s a win-win, and I’m hopeful that the President will sign it into law. For our region and our Nation’s future, this Administration’s war on coal must stop.”

The EPA’s proposed regulations to govern the disposal of coal ash under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act are a prime example of the Obama Administration’s needless meddling. In June, EPA proposed two alternatives for federal regulation of coal ash, either of which would drive up electricity and construction prices and cost jobs. Further, the classification of coal ash as a “hazardous waste,” as proposed by EPA, would threaten the “beneficial reuse” of coal ash in eco-friendly products like cement, wallboard and shingles that are used in our bridges, roads and buildings at low costs. If EPA regulations are brought into effect, hundreds of millions of tons of coal ash would need to be disposed. This would not only cause greater costs for consumers and the environment, it would result in the loss of approximately 300,000 jobs.

H.R. 2273 puts forth an effective, bi-partisan alternative that minimizes burdensome regulations. The Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act takes a new approach to federal environmental regulation by empowering States to utilize existing municipal solid waste regulations for the management of coal ash. This approach will ensure the safe disposal and reuse of coal ash without overwhelming state operating costs or placing unnecessary regulations on electric generation, energy costs and the economy. Passage of this bill will help to restore confidence in our private sector so that the economy can grow and Americans can return to work.

Rogers has been a leader in combating EPA’s regulatory overreach, corresponding with President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson about these wrong-headed coal ash regulations on three occasions since June 2009. Through his role as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rogers will continue to challenge overreaching regulations and fight for coal miners and their families to bring jobs and economic development to Kentucky.

The bill is H.R. 2273

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)