Bipartisan bill shows coal ash compromise

(Basin Electric Power Cooperative 8-3-2012) A bipartisan bill looks to halt further federal coal ash regulation and put oversight in the states' hands. A bipartisan group of legislators introduced a revised bill in the U.S. Senate Aug. 2 that creates state oversight for safe and efficient recycling of coal ash generated by power plants.
 
U.S. Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND), Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Max Baucus (D-MT) introduced the Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act of 2012, which will provide strong state oversight for storage and management of coal residuals while enabling coal ash to continue serving as a valuable construction component.
 
The legislation is an amended version of the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act of 2011 previously introduced in the Senate by Hoeven and Conrad.
 
“At a time when our nation very much needs jobs and economic growth, our bill will help to create both, while also helping to lower the cost of energy for American families and businesses,” Hoeven said in an Aug. 2 press release. “North Dakota serves as a good example of how states can properly manage the disposal of coal residuals with good environmental stewardship, and at the same time, allow for its beneficial use in buildings, roads, bridges and other infrastructure with a material that is stronger and less expensive.”
 
Bipartisan support for the bill includes U.S. Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE), Michael Enzi (R- WY), John Thune (R-SD), and Ron Johnson (R-WI). Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is also a co-sponsor. The legislation is sponsored by 12 Republicans and 12 Democrats in all.
 
Basin Electric generates revenue and avoids landfill disposal costs by selling fly ash and bottom ash from its coal-fired facilities.
 
Basin Electric’s coal-fired generation plants Leland Olds Station and Antelope Valley Station in North Dakota and Laramie River Station in Wyoming sold a combined average of 181,380 tons per year from 2007-2011, while yearly bottom ash sales averaged 45,794 tons during that same period.
 
By selling the ash for beneficial uses, Basin Electric officials estimate the cooperative avoids $6 to $8 per ton in transportation and disposal costs. More than 315,000 tons of fly ash and bottom ash were sold in 2011 alone, diverting the ash from landfills and amounting to savings for the cooperative in the range of $1.9 million to $2.5 million.
 
Oil development in western North Dakota has increased demand for fly ash from Antelope Valley Station and Leland Olds Station, which has increased both the price paid for the ash and the quantity sold.
 
“The compromise coal ash bill that Sen. Baucus brokered with Senators Conrad and Hoeven is a positive step,” said Curtis Jabs, Basin Electric senior legislative representative.
 
Kevin Solie, Basin Electric senior water quality/waste management coordinator, said, “Basin Electric supports keeping coal ash regulated as non-hazardous and under state control and we believe this compromise bill accomplished that goal.”
 
Conrad and Baucus called the legislation a “common-sense approach” to coal ash regulation.
 
“This bill takes a common-sense approach that keeps states at the forefront of regulating coal ash, but requires the states to meet a common set of standards to ensure that drinking water is safe,” Conrad said. “This approach would ensure that coal-fired power plants can continue operating efficiently and providing affordable electricity to consumers. It will also mean that road builders can continue to use coal ash to make concrete roads and bridges both stronger and more affordable.”
 
“This bill strikes a good balance to continue our strong commitment to protecting our outdoor heritage while supporting industries that turn coal ash into jobs building roads and bridges,” Baucus said.
 
Other changes to coal ash impoundment regulations in the bill include: mandatory compliance with groundwater monitoring requirements within one year of being notified by the state that a permit is needed; leaking, unlined impoundments violating the state’s drinking water contamination standards must return to compliance or initiate closure within 10 years after enactment; owners of impoundments found in violation must implement interim corrective measures within three months of the state identifying a corrective measure; and the fact that deadline extensions may be allowed under certain circumstances.
 
Coal ash is currently classified as mine waste, exempting it from hazardous waste regulations under an amendment to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
 
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule on June 21, 2010 that considered two possible options for the management of coal ash: list coal ash as special waste subject to regulation when destined for disposal in landfills or surface impoundments; or to continue regulation of coal ash as a non-hazardous waste.
 
Additional language in the new legislation, however, prevents finalization of the June 21, 2010 proposed rule, thus halting EPA regulatory action on coal ash.