- The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill this week to limit parts of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first-ever coal ash waste disposal regulations. Though controversial with the power industry, the EPA rule fulfilled one of President Obama’s earliest campaign promises to environmentalists.
- Republicans who sponsored the bill, entitled the Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act (H.R. 1734), argue it maintains EPA-imposed health and safety standards on coal ash waste sites through the legal system and state regulators rather than through federal agencies. The bill passed passed 258 to 166.
- The bill “eliminates or undermines necessary protections” to health from the disposed ash byproduct of coal burning which contains arsenic, chromium, and mercury and other toxic substances, according to the White House. President Obama has indicated he would veto the bill should it pass the Senate.
The EPA rule is aimed at the leaking of contaminants into ground water, the blowing of contaminants into the air as dust, and the catastrophic failure of coal ash surface impoundments.
It creates requirements and standards for the management of coal combustion residuals under Subtitle D of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). That subtitle governs solid waste. There is not yet adequate data, the EPA said, to justify managing coal ash under Subtitle C of RCRA, which pertains to hazardous waste.
Environmentalists told Utility Dive in December coal ash should be defined and treated as dangerous toxic waste and enforced according to a strict federal standard. They condemned the House bill because it would allow states to set their own rules for permitting and regulation and because it prevents the EPA from redefining coal ash as hazardous.
Utilities complained in December the EPA rule would only create a uniform national system for coal ash regulation if it was implemented by the states. Because the House bill imposes that change, they urged backing for similar legislation recently introduced in the Senate.