Following recent passage in the House of an industry-friendly coal ash disposal bill, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, is trying to rally support in the Senate against the bill.
The bill is H.R. 2218, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act. It would prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from moving forward with protective national standards for coal ash, including possible designation of this material as a toxic waste, and leave much of ash regulation up to the states. The bill has gotten broad support from the coal and coal-fired power industries.
Democrats control the Senate, unlike the House, but some coal-state Democrats could move across party lines to support this bill. House Republicans have painted this bill as part of their broader effort to control Obama Administration overreach.
In an Aug. 7 letter to Senate colleagues, Boxer wrote: “I am writing concerning H.R. 2218, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, which recently passed the House of Representatives and is currently being held at the desk in the Senate. Proponents of this bill claim that it protects the public from coal ash by authorizing states to regulate the handling and disposal of this toxic material. However, it is important to note that this bill passed while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing protective national standards, and this bill would prevent EPA from moving forward with these national standards to safeguard the people we represent.”
Boxer pointed to a massive 2008 coal ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston coal plant in Tennessee, which released over one billion gallons of waste and caused over $1bn in cleanup costs for TVA, a federal agency.
“There are over 600 coal waste disposal impoundments across the nation and more than 100 million tons of coal waste are generated each year,” Boxer wrote. “Coal waste contains toxic chemicals, such as arsenic, lead, mercury, and selenium, which are known to cancer, harm development and reproduction, and damage the kidneys and lungs — pregnant women and children are especially at risk.”
Boxer added: “The suggestion by the bill’s proponents that EPA does not oppose H.R. 2218 is not true, and it is important for you to know the facts – EPA has confirmed to me that the Agency does not support H.R. 2218 as drafted. I would be happy to send you an analysis by the Congressional Research Service, which outlines serious concerns about the bill’s failure to provide the protections necessary to safeguard communities near coal waste sites across the nation.”
The House on July 25 approved H.R. 2218 by a vote of 265 to 155. Sponsored by Rep. David McKinley, R-W. Va., the legislation would create a state-based program that sets enforceable federal standards for coal ash.
The bill is a product of two-and-a-half years of negotiations with stakeholders, the states, the Senate, and the administration. It is a workable solution to coal ash regulation and provides an alternative to EPA’s 2010 proposal to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste, which put hundreds of thousands of jobs in jeopardy and threatened to drive up electricity and construction costs, said House Republicans.
“After countless hearings, meetings, and amendments we come here with a solution,” said McKinley. “If we don’t act decisively, Congress will once again kick the can down the road. That would mean the status quo continues.”