New bill on coal ash to get Jan. 27 hearing in the U.S. Senate

U.S. Senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and John Hoeven, R-S.D., on Jan. 20 introduced legislation that would create a states-first approach to regulating coal ash that provides both certainty for the safe and efficient recycling of coal ash and an enforceable state permit program for the disposal of coal ash.

This legislation, which will be considered at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) on Jan. 27, builds on the senators’ past efforts to find a bicameral, bipartisan solution for the recycling and disposal of coal ash. (Note: the hearing was originally scheduled for Jan. 26, but was pushed back a day.)

“The overregulation of coal ash by the EPA would threaten vital industries and unnecessarily cost West Virginia and the nation more jobs,” Manchin said in a Jan. 21 statement. “This bipartisan measure would prevent the EPA from overregulating coal ash and give states the ability to take the lead on setting up their own permitting programs to make sure coal ash is safely recycled and reused by existing EPA health and environment regulations. This commonsense approach will protect jobs and our economy, while giving families and businesses the certainty they need.”

“This bill ensures that EPA’s coal ash disposal standards are enforced with proper oversight from our states, instead of the approach taken by EPA in the final rule, which regulates coal ash and enforces the requirements through litigation. Coal ash is a byproduct of coal-based electricity generation that has been safely recycled for buildings, roads, bridges and other infrastructure for years,” Hoeven said. “North Dakota serves as a good example of how states can properly manage the disposal of coal residuals with good environmental stewardship. Recycled coal ash was used to build our Heritage Center and the National Energy Center of Excellence on the campus of Bismarck State College.”

“This bill addresses a number of problems with the recent EPA rule regulating the disposal of coal ash from power plants,” said U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the EPW Committee. “While EPA correctly determined coal ash is a nonhazardous waste, the Senate EPW Committee heard testimony last summer that the rule is difficult to implement by states, coal ash producers, and users. This bill would give states the authority they need to regulate coal ash, subject to approval by EPA similar to other permit programs, and will give coal ash producers and users the regulatory certainty they have been seeking. I applaud Senators John Hoeven and Joe Manchin for their efforts on this bill, and their leadership in making this important piece of legislation a reality. I look forward to bringing this legislation before the Senate EPW Committee this month for a legislative hearing, and working with my colleagues to shepherd this legislation to the Senate floor.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s final coal ash rule, announced in December 2014, correctly regulates coal ash as a non-hazardous material, but this regulation does not create an effective enforcement mechanism for the disposal of coal ash as it relies on citizen-suit litigation to enforce coal ash disposal standards, the senators said.

The new Manchin-Hoeven legislation:

  • Continues to authorize states to create permit programs to enforce coal ash disposal standards, while it responds to EPA feedback on earlier legislation by requiring states to set up their permit program through a traditional EPA application process and giving EPA final approval of a state’s permit program prior to implementation.
  • Among many coal ash disposal standards, it ensures state permit programs require timely and effective groundwater monitoring of coal ash disposal sites, and also requires protective lining and properly engineered disposal structures needed to protect communities and the environment.
  • States that choose not to create a permit program or that do not have an approved application from EPA will be regulated directly by EPA.
  • Provides state regulators the flexibility they need for implementing the groundwater monitoring and corrective action standards, similar to what is provided under existing Municipal Solid Waste regulations.
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.