Thrusting quickly to parry stiffer federal rules, the House has approved a bill that would allow states to regulate coal ash from power plants as if it were municipal garbage, not hazardous waste.
House Republicans shepherded H.R. 2273: Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act to passage Friday (Oct. 14) on a 267-144-22 roll call vote, potentially undercutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to set stricter disposal regulations nationwide.
CCR Rule Uncertainty
With more than 100 million tons of coal combustion products produced every year for use in cement, as fill material and abrasive blast media, EPA has long been under pressure to promulgate stronger disposal standards.
Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter
|The House measure would regulate coal waste like landfilled municipal garbage.|
The agency issued its controversial Proposed Rule for Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals [CCRs] from Electric Utilities in June 2010.
The proposal, which includes two options for CCR disposal, was the subject of extensive public hearings last fall, and the comment period closed 11 months ago. Still, EPA has not said when a final version might be released.
EPA has long defended the safety of CCRs, even taking criticism from its own auditors for doing so.
Moreover, given the Obama Administration’s recent retreat on several other federal rules, and with the EPA under fire by President Obama’s opponents, it seems an unlikely time for the Administration to introduce new regulations that businesses oppose.
Still, members of Congress aren’t taking any chances.
Amending RCRA Subtitle D
The House legislation, introduced June 22 by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), would amend Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) “to authorize states to adopt and implement coal combustion residuals permit programs.”
|Republicans “want clean air and water for our children and grandchildren as much as Democrats do,” said the bill’s sponsor, David McKinley (R-WV).|
Subtitle D of RCRA, also known as the Solid Waste Disposal Act, addresses non-hazardous solid wastes, including certain hazardous wastes, such as those from households, which are exempted from the Subtitle C regulations.
McKinley’s bill would require:
• State CCR programs to be “no less stringent” than the requirements set for municipal solid waste landfills, which have liners to protect groundwater, monitors to test water for contamination, and equipment to control dust;
• State programs to regulate management of CCRs in surface impoundments and other land-based units; and
• Landfills and surface impoundments for CCR disposal to be “designed, constructed and maintained to provide for containment of the maximum volumes of such residuals appropriate for the structure.”
Coal ash now stored in surface ponds or impoundments would not be affected.
The bill would allow EPA to implement a disposal program for a state that refuses to comply, but the agency could not design a program that treats CCRs the same as hazardous waste in that state.
The measure also preserves EPA’s 2000 “Regulatory Determination on Wastes from the Combustion of Fossil Fuels,” which concluded that fossil fuel combustion wastes did not warrant regulation as hazardous waste.
White House Opposition
The bill arrived Monday (Oct. 17) in the Senate, where it was read for the first time. Although the measure faces an uphill battle in the Democratic-controlled chamber, 37 Democrats supported the bill in the House and 22 abstained, indicating that the fight may not be one that Democrats want to pursue at this time.
The White House has roundly opposed the bill, calling it “insufficient to address the risks associated with coal ash disposal and management.”
Although he stopped short of threatening a veto, Obama said last week that the measure “undermines the Federal government’s ability to ensure that requirements for management and disposal of coal combustion residuals are protective of human health and the environment.”
ACAA & ACC 2010 Coal Ash Economic Assessment
|The measure would apply to (clockwise from top left) fly ash, bottom ash, boiler slag and FGD material.|
Obama cited the 2008 failure of a coal ash impoundment in Kingston, TN, as a “stark reminder of the need for safe disposal and management of coal ash to protect public health and the environment.” That disaster spilled more than five million cubic yards of coal ash and will cost $1.2 billion to clean up.
McKinley’s bill “would replace existing authorities with inadequate and inappropriate minimum requirements,” Obama said.
‘Regulation That Protects Jobs’
“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 byproducts industry,” Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s environment and economy panel, told the Associated Press.
The coal ash rule is one of a host of environmental regulations targeted by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) in a memo to House Republicans in August.
McKinley recently told The Dominion Post, of Morgantown, WV, that the Administration and its supporters “have an agenda to stop burning coal. They don’t seem to understand the consequences of doing that.”
And in an op-ed essay Friday in The Hill, McKinley wrote: “House Republicans do not oppose regulation. We want clean air and water for our children and grandchildren as much as Democrats do. But it must be responsible regulation that protects jobs. This legislation does just that.”