U.S. House passes bill on coal ash

WASHINGTON – A bill preventing coal ash to be classified as a hazardous waste by the Environmental Protection Agency includes health and safety protections from deficient impoundments, a West Virginia congressman said.

The House of Representatives on Thursday passed the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, House Resolution 2218, which Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., a prime sponsor, said was his “signature” piece of legislation since he was elected to Congress.

The legislation includes provisions where companies must maintain and repair leaking impoundments or “shut them down,” McKinley said during a press conference with West Virginia reporters from Washington, D.C.

“No ifs, ands or buts,” McKinley said.

The legislation removes the stigma that coal ash, a byproduct of coal combustion at power plants, is a hazardous waste, which may prevent industry to find ways to reuse the material, McKinley said. Coal ash is used in numerous construction materials.

Other nations, such as Japan, recycle more coal ash and find other uses for the material than does the United States, he said. Only 40 percent of the fly ash in America is recycled, McKinley said.

At stake are 316,000 jobs, McKinley said.

The legislation, which now goes to the Senate, was adopted in the House on 265 to 155 vote. Most of the nays were Democrats.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, were in favor.

“The Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act will stop the EPA from implementing new job-killing coal ash regulations by empowering states to create a permit program that meets their individual needs, while still providing environmental safeguards,” Capito said in a statement. “This legislation ensures that job creators receive the regulatory certainty that they need and that coal ash can continue to be used in a productive way.”

The coal ash issue has been discussed for more than 33 years, McKinley, an engineer, said. The act allows states to regulate the disposal and management of coal ash and provides for the EPA to step in where such regulations are deficient or non-existent.

It creates a national uniform policy for the first time for the waste management of coal ash, McKinley said.

The 140 million tons of coal ash produced each year would otherwise be disposed based on 1950s and 1960s standards.

The discussion on coal ash was prompted by the failure of an impoundment in 2008 in Kingston, Tenn. In 2010, the EPA proposed coal ash in landfills and other storage areas will be treated as a hazardous material.

The bill also requires groundwater monitoring. Companies will have 10 years to fix leaking impoundments.