Rural cooperatives back House coal ash disposal bill

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) on April 11 lauded a bipartisan effort in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which got a hearing that day, to regulate coal ash disposal.

NRECA declared its support for “The Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act of 2013,” which leverages the existing expertise of states in regulating solid waste. The bill is scheduled for a committee vote next week, NARUC noted.

“Cooperatives urge swift passage of this bi-partisan, common sense legislation that provides federal standards to protect the environment, while also protecting cooperatives’ ability to provide their members with reliable, affordable electricity,” said Kirk Johnson, Senior Vice-President of Government Relations at NRECA. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has previously determined coal ash not to be hazardous, but in 2010 said it might regulate ash as a hazardous waste. Cooperatives across the country keep coal ash out of landfills through beneficial reuse in the manufacture of gypsum wallboard, concrete and other materials, NARUC pointed out. The pending bill will not only promote the regulatory certainty needed for continuing beneficial reuse, but also avoid the tremendous costs that come with a hazardous treatment.

“Regulatory uncertainty is a threat to the recycling of coal ash that would otherwise end up in landfills; this legislation enables the cost-effective reuse of combustion residues to continue and even flourish,” Johnson said.

On April 11, the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on the bill. The subcommittee looked at a discussion draft that is an outgrowth of H.R. 2273, which passed the House in the last Congress. The text of the discussion draft was introduced in the Senate in the last Congress as S. 3512 with 12 Republican and 12 Democratic cosponsors.

The discussion draft adopts the same approach as H.R. 2273, but contains several significant changes, particularly in the details of the minimum requirements set out in the bill. Both bills would establish a new approach to environmental regulation by amending the Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA) to authorize states to adopt and implement coal combustion residuals permit programs that include the minimum requirements set out in the legislation.

EPA doesn’t outright hate the discussion draft

Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, said in prepared testimony for the April 11 hearing: “The Discussion Draft of the Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act appears to establish a framework for the management of [coal combustion residuals] CCRs. The documented damages associated with the mismanagement of CCRs support the need for action to address those risks. We support the development, implementation, and enforcement of appropriate standards for facilities managing coal ash, while encouraging the beneficial use of this economically important material. The proper management of CCRs should include clear requirements that address the risks associated with the coal ash disposal and management, consideration of the best science and data available, adequate evaluation of structural integrity, protective solutions for existing as well as new facilities, and appropriate public information and comment.”

Stanislaus said the discussion draft addresses some of the principles for effective CCR management. “Although the Discussion draft contains key provisions that require states to implement CCR programs that address specific contaminants, address leaking surface impoundments and, require the establishment of groundwater monitoring, we note that it does not clearly address timelines for the development and implementation of state programs, criteria for EPA to use to determine when a state program is deficient, criteria for CCR unit structural integrity, deadlines for closure of unlined or leaking impoundments/units, including inactive or abandoned impoundments/units, and the universe of CCR disposal units subject to a permit program including impoundments, landfills, waste piles, pits and quarries, and other disposal scenarios.”

Should Congress decide to address the regulation of CCRs through legislation, EPA stands ready to assist in that effort to help ensure that legislation establishes a regulatory framework to regulate the management of CCRs in a nationally consistent manner that protects health and the environment, Stanislaus said.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.