- The U.S. Senate this week passed the Water Resources Development Act, a bipartisan measure that included a compromise on coal ash regulation and how it will be enforced and reviewed.
- That amendment authorizes states to develop permitting programs for dealing with coal ash, the waste power plants produce from burning the fuel.
- The Edison Electric Institute hailed passage of the bill, saying it helps protect the environment, and called on lawmakers in the House of Representatives to approve the measure as well. But environmental advocates said in a letter that the bill would lead to more opaque standards and processes.
With time running out in this legislative year, lawmakers in the Senate struck a compromise on coal ash management and passed a measure allowing states to develop permitting programs. Argus points out lawmakers hope the measure will shield utilities somewhat from private lawsuits, because without the new language, citizen lawsuits would be the only enforcement avenue.
Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn issued a statement following the Senate's vote, hailing the measure for "critically important provisions" for the management of coal ash.
"As the EPA’s coal ash regulation goes into effect and the industry begins to close coal ash basins, these legislative provisions will enable states to be more involved in the permitting process for the closure of basins," Kuhn said. "Permanently closing basins in a manner that puts safety first, protects the environment, and minimizes impacts to communities and customers is vitally important to our industry."
The coal ash provisions were passed as part of manager's amendment, E&E Daily reported earlier this month. They were attached to the WRDA legislation, which has support from both ends of the political spectrum. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out that conservative Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), was one of the primary sponsors, as was more-liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA).
The 2014 EPA Coal Combustion Residual Rule (CCR) was written to provide a path forward for utilities and states trying to manage coal ash, but it is not enforced by the federal government. Instead, states develop rules and compliance is left up to citizen lawsuits.
The CCR law placed the coal waste under subtitle D — and not subtitle C — of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. That designation means EPA considers coal ash a solid waste, rather than a hazardous one, which would require more stringent regulations.