Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., expressed deep disappointment that a House and Senate conference committee did not keep his plan to treat coal ash as a non-hazardous waste as part of the Transportation Bill.
“While I respect the democratic process, removing the House-passed amendment unfortunately sends two messages,” McKinley said in a June 27 news release.
“The first is that citizens living in the vicinity of coal ash impoundments will not have the new EPA safeguards provided in the bill and they will continue to be exposed to health and environmental issues they have been experiencing for the past thirty or more years. The second message regarding removal of the coal ash provision is the loss of hundreds of thousands of construction jobs because of the increased cost of concrete and the additional loss of 316,000 jobs related to the beneficial recycling of coal ash into both construction and consumer goods,” McKinley said.
Neither McKinley’s coal ash provision, nor a provision that would affect permitting of the Keystone pipeline, were included in the final bill.
In the Senate, the Bicameral Transportation Conference Report drew praise from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Calif. Boxer is the chairman and Inhofe is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Boxer said the bill would create millions of jobs. Inhofe said that the transportation package streamlines and simplifies many transportation programs.
The coal ash bill, H.R. 2273, originally passed the House in October 2011 but the Senate failed to take action on the issue. On April 18 of this year, the House passed the coal ash amendment within the Surface Transportation Extension Act.
Officials connected with the American Coal Ash Association have liked the bill, which would remove the potential stigma of having coal ash seen as a toxic waste. At the same time the plan would have provided for EPA oversight of the coal waste.
“We are disappointed that Congress is not taking the threat posed by potential over-reaching regulation of CCP [coal combustion product] disposal seriously,” American Coal Ash Association Executive Director Thomas Adams said June 28.
“As documented by the American Road and Transportation Builders in their 2011 study, the use of fly ash in concrete is valued at over $100 billion over the next 20 years,” Adams said. “Transportation funding is already stretched thin. Congress had the opportunity to act to avoid this expense and appears to be indifferent.”
Adams said ACAA will continue to work with EPA on the issue.
Rep. McKinley also said the coal ash bill had the support of the United Mine Workers of America, which represents thousands of coal miners nationwide, as well as various other trade unions.
The debate over how the federal government should oversee this material has been going on for years and the ACAA thought it had the matter settled during the Clinton Administration. But the issue was revived in the aftermath of the failure of a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) ash impoundment at its Kingston coal plant in December 2008, which dumped massive amounts of ash in the local watershed.
Coal ash recyclers have recently been hurt by both the specter of EPA regulation as a hazardous waste and by the fact coal is losing market share to natural gas when it comes to power generation.