House Rejects EPA Oversight of Coal Ash
By: Puneet Kollipara
October 15, 2011
WASHINGTON — The House voted yesterday to approve a bill that would block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from restricting how utilities dispose of coal ash and would let states regulate it like municipal waste.
The bill passed 267-144, with all but three Republicans voting in favor and 37 Democrats joining them.
Republicans said the bill would prevent the EPA from issuing a rule that an industry group has said would cost up to 316,000 jobs.
“These are real jobs at stake. It’s that simple,” said Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., adding that bill opponents “clearly have an anti-coal agenda.”
The agency has proposed subjecting coal ash to a federal hazardous-waste-management law or requiring states to regulate it as nonhazardous waste. The proposal comes in the wake of coal-ash spills, including a billion-gallon spill in 2008 in Kingston, Tenn.
The bill would allow states to regulate coal-ash disposal no less stringently than municipal waste. The EPA could run similar programs for states that don’t regulate it.
Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, said the bill would “provide certainty for state regulators as well as the manufacturers that rely on coal ash as building materials ... and prevent unnecessary hikes in electricity rates.”
Democrats such as Rep. James P. McGovern of Massachusetts cited a study from Tufts University in Medford, Mass., that said the industry group’s assertion of job losses is based on flawed use of data from an unpublished academic study. The Tufts study found that the EPA rule actually could create 28,000 jobs.
“These jobs will not happen if we pass this bill. This bill basically preserves the status quo,” McGovern said.
Top House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats such as Rep. Henry Waxman of California contend that letting states regulate coal ash like municipal waste wouldn’t ensure the safety of coal-ash sites.
The Environmental Integrity Project, an environmental-advocacy group in Washington, has said the bill also would allow for coal-ash sites that could leak up to five times more arsenic than allowed by current law.
McKinley’s bill faces tough odds in the Democratically held Senate. The Obama administration opposes it.