Illinois Congressmen Seeks to Limit Coal Ash Regulation

(Chicago Tribune 2-4-10) A bipartisan group of Illinois congressmen warned the White House on Thursday that federal regulation of coal ash, a toxic byproduct of coal-fired power plants, could devastate Illinois' economy. Four Democrats and four Republicans, including several from the Chicago suburbs, told the Office of Management and Budget in a letter that regulating coal ash as hazardous material would impost "steep costs" on Illinois energy consumers, who draw much of their power from coal.
They said the move would deprive power producers of their ability to reuse the ash in cement, concrete and other building materials, a recycling they said creates thousands of Illinois jobs. "The loss of these good-paying jobs would have a serious impact on Illinois' economy, which continues to experience 11.1 percent unemployment," Democratic Rep. Jerry Costello, Republican Rep. John Shimkus and six colleagues wrote in the letter. Also signing were Republicans Peter Roskam, Tim Johnson and Aaron Schock, and Democrats Debbie Halvorson, Bill Foster and Dan Lipinski. The representatives said they would support "reasonable" regulations that keep energy costs low and do not prohibit reuse of ash in construction material. Notably absent from the letter was Rep. Mark Kirk, the GOP nominee for the Senate this fall.
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed coal ash regulations last year, in the wake of a massive coal ash spill in Tennessee late in 2008. The federal government does not currently regulate coal byproducts, which contain heavy metals such as arsenic that threaten human health. The proposed regulation has been delayed for months and not made public, and some environmentalists expect it will not designate coal ash as "hazardous."
The budget office is reviewing the proposal and could make changes before it is published for public comment. In the course of that review, White House officials have angered some watchdog groups by meeting repeatedly with coal industry representatives. "You would think that they're threatening to shut coal-fired power plants down across the country," said Rena Steinzor, president of the Center for Progressive Reform. "It's ridiculous." The budget office said in a statement that "we have received the Illinois congressional delegation's comments and appreciate their input. The proposed rule remains under review so it is still being considered and has not been finalized."
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