House Votes to Block Federal Regulation of Coal Ash

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted Friday to block federal environmental officials from regulating ash from coal-fired power plants as a hazardous waste, prompting an outcry from watchdog groups that charged the decision would jeopardize public health.
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The legislation, which passed on a 267 to 144 vote, would grant states the authority to set their own standards for coal-ash disposal but would prohibit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the residue as a hazardous material.
The Obama administration is in the process of developing the first-ever federal regulations for coal ash disposal in light of the catastrophic ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Kingston on Dec. 22, 2008. One of the proposals under consideration would treat coal ash as a hazardous substance.
But lawmakers from coal-producing states including Tennessee argue that would devastate the coal industry, raise electricity bills and kill the market for recycled coal ash, which is used in road construction and building materials.
“We cannot afford to let the EPA put more Americans out of work,” said U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who accused the Obama administration of an “ideological war on Appalachian jobs.”
U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., who authored the legislation, blasted environmentalists for what he described as “an anti-coal agenda.”
“This is not a time for people who dislike fossil fuels to be pushing their personal ideologies,” McKinley said, noting the nation’s stubbornly high unemployment rate.
Under McKinely’s bill, states would have the power to handle coal ash disposal as if it were household waste. The ash would have to be placed in landfills that are fitted with liners to protect groundwater, and monitors would have to be in place to test water for contamination. However, the rules would not apply to ash already stored in surface ponds or impoundments.
Opponents argued the bill would jeopardize public safety because it would not require adequate safeguards to prevent water supplies from being contaminated by arsenic, lead and other hazardous materials found in coal ash.
Furthermore, they said, it would allow for a patchwork of state regulations that would vary widely from one state to another and would leave the federal government powerless to deal with what is a national problem.

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