House Panel Blocks EPA on Coal Ash

(Electric Co-op 6-27-2011) A House subcommittee has taken the first legislative step toward blocking the Environmental Protection Agency from classifying coal ash as a hazardous waste.
Saying EPA’s proposal would lead to high energy costs and stymie coal ash recycling in construction materials, the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment approved a new, state-driven plan to regulate handling and disposal of the material.
“Potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs could be lost and costs could surpass the hundred billion dollar range if the EPA is allowed to regulate coal ash as a hazardous material,” said Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., the bill’s author.
The Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act passed June 21 on a voice vote and now goes to the full House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Kirk Johnson, NRECA senior vice president, government relations, called the bill a positive step in addressing an issue that was a central focus of the NRECA Legislative Conference.
“This legislation accomplishes the goal of ensuring that regulation of coal combustion residuals does not drive up electricity costs nor curtails their beneficial use,” he said.
Last June, EPA proposed two options to deal with coal ash, an issue that gained attention following a December 2008 impoundment rupture at a Tennessee Valley Authority plant, which released 1 billion gallons of fly ash slurry.
A hazardous waste designation would, for the first time, subject impoundments and ash landfills at coal plants to federal requirements for hazardous waste management and disposal. EPA estimated the compliance costs of that proposal would be $10.9 billion in 2016.
The other option would give the agency authority to set minimum performance standards for storage and disposal. Either way, EPA is saying it will not finalize the regulation until 2013.
The subcommittee’s bill prevents EPA from classifying coal ash as hazardous waste and authorizes states to adopt their own regulatory programs. If a state decides not to proceed with a program, EPA can step in.
Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus, R-Ill., said the panel’s recent hearings on coal ash showed that state environmental officials can provide proper oversight without undue federal control.
“Given the unique challenges of each individual state, I believe this is the best approach,” he said.
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