House of Representatives votes to keep ashes from coal-fired power plants from designation as hazardous waste

(Cleveland.com 07-25-2013) The House of Representatives on Thursday adopted legislation that would give states greater control over the management of coal ash, a coal combustion byproduct that poses environmental threats when put in landfills, but is also commonly recycled for use in cement, concrete and other products. While some Democrats saw the measure as yet another attempt by the Republican majority to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of authority, the bill passed by a 265 to 155 margin, with support from 39 Democrats, including all four of Ohio's Democratic representatives.
 
All of Ohio's Republicans voted for the bill, too, except for House Speaker John Boehner who seldom votes. Instead, he put out a press release that said the bill would protect and create jobs. Many of the state's power plants produce coal-ash as a byproduct.
 
Wadsworth Republican Rep. Jim Renacci, who cosponsored the measure, said an EPA proposal to designate coal ash as a "hazardous material" is without scientific basis. He called it "another thinly veiled attempt to force the coal industry out of business."
 
"This proposal is estimated to cost energy companies as much as $110 billion over the next 20 years, putting over 300,000 jobs at risk as companies would be forced to lay off workers to meet the new compliance costs," Renacci said in a press statement.
 
Focus on regulating coal ash increased after the 2008 failure of a Tennessee coal ash storage area contaminated local waterways, requiring a cleanup that's estimated to cost more than $1 billion. The disaster prompted the EPA to propose a rule that would treat coal ash in landfills and other storage areas as hazardous material.
 
The EPA has yet to finalize the rule, and the House bill would stop the agency from imposing the hazardous material designation. It would give the federal government authority to provide minimum standards for the management of coal ash but leave it to the states to develop permit programs.
 
It would also require installation of groundwater monitoring at all structures containing coal ash and set deadlines for meeting groundwater protection standards. Companies with impoundments found to be leaking would have up to 10 years to fix the problem.
 
An opponent of the bill, California Democrat Henry Waxman, said the debate was about "whether or not we are going to allow coal ash disposal sites to contaminate our water supplies and threaten human health," not "a war on coal or putting a stigma on coal ash."
 
The White House, in its statement on the bill, said the administration hopes to work with Congress on legislation setting standards for managing coal ash while encouraging the beneficial uses of the material.
 
But it also listed several concerns with the House bill, including ensuring there is authority to address inactive or abandoned disposal sites, authority for taking corrective action on unlined or leaking impoundments and clear minimum standards for the EPA to identify and remedy state program deficiencies.
 
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