In what may be good news for coal-fired power generators, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has selected House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., for the House-Senate conference committee on transportation legislation.
That committee will negotiate provisions within the Energy and Commerce Committee’s purview, including approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline out of Canada, vehicle safety measures and a framework to ensure the safe management and reuse of coal ash.
Upton said in an April 25 statement that the conference committee is an opportunity to enact a legislative fix for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “ill-advised plans” for coal ash regulation. EPA in 2010 proposed two forms of ash regulation. One was more industry friendly and would classify it as a regular waste, but the other would classify it as a toxic waste, which the utility industry said would explode its disposal costs and lead to the closure of a number of coal-fired power plants.
“EPA’s proposal puts hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk, threatens the beneficial use of coal ash, and could drive up electricity rates for American families and businesses,” Upton said. “Members of the Energy and Commerce Committee worked hard to come up with a bipartisan compromise that will enhance environmental protections without sacrificing jobs or putting further strain on our economy. Both the Keystone XL and coal ash provisions are products of commonsense legislation that enjoyed broad bipartisan support in the House as stand-alone bills, and I hope to see similar bipartisan backing in these negotiations.”
Whitfield, from Kentucky, a major coal-producing and coal-fired power generating state, said the ash provision that was recently inserted in the House version of the transportation extension package “will ensure that the EPA does not propose standards that will hinder coal-fired electricity or restrict the recycling of coal ash in concrete and other products.”
There has also been some public sparring between two members of Congress from West Virginia, also a major coal-producing and coal-power-reliant state. Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller has said environmental side-issues have no place in the transportation bill. Republican Rep. David McKinley shot back in an April 26 statement that accused Rockefeller of a “flip flop” on the coal ash issue.
“I was frankly shocked at his public statement saying the coal ash language is ‘going down’ and how he will work to remove it from the transportation bill, “said McKinley. “Currently, coal fired power plants in 48 states around the country create coal ash everyday but there are no federal standards for safe disposal of the product. This is the first time in 30 years that Congress is offering environmentally safe standards for the disposal of coal ash.”
McKinley said the EPA has previously conducted two studies on coal ash and determined it was not a hazardous material. The ash provision in the transportation bill would leave ash oversight to the states.
“This amendment to the transportation bill is a real bi-partisan solution, addressing the coal ash issue; but suddenly Sen. Rockefeller has a change of philosophy,” McKinley added. “I don’t understand that from a man who once was quoted as saying, ‘coal defines us.'”
McKinley continued: “If this goes down, it puts this issue and others like it in the hands of unelected bureaucrats to make decisions that will ultimately affect all of us. This bill protects jobs and public health by ensuring that needed provisions are put in place so that the 48 states around the country can continue recycling coal ash. This is just another example of how the fossil fuel industry is under attack. This legislation will protect upwards of 316,000 jobs and prevent a 110 billion increase on road construction costs. We can prevent a cost increase in cement by including the coal ash language in the transportation bill.”