Rep. David McKinley in The Daily Caller: Coal ash bill a winner for American economy

April 15, 2011

West Virginia is well known as a leading producer of coal, the fuel source that still provides nearly half of America's energy needs. Many also know that the Obama administration has been waging a war on coal -- first through its attempt to pass a cap-and-trade energy tax, and now through the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to regulate what the president could not legislate.

But what many do not know is that the War on Coal will have an economy-wide ripple effect that could severely undermine dozens of industries throughout our nation. The Environmental Protection Agency released a proposal last year to regulate coal ash, or fly ash, as a hazardous material.

In fact, twice under the Clinton administration, in 1993 and 2000, the EPA studied this issue and concluded each time that coal ash is non-hazardous. But now, they are revisiting coal ash regulation -- not because of new science -- but simply because the EPA is controlled by an ideologically motivated president who has actually said he wants to "bankrupt" coal.

Fly ash is an unavoidable byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity, so power generators and schools are just some of those at risk of drastically higher costs. During recent testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a Purdue University official said the EPA's plan would increase the costs of handling the coal ash produced by their boiler from $300,000 a year to $25 million.

Beneficial users would also be under attack. Coal ash is recycled into concrete mixtures for our roads, bridges, and buildings. It is an additive in concrete blocks and bricks. It is widely included in drywall panels used in houses, schools and offices. Fly ash is even used in agricultural fertilizers and soil amendments. If the EPA were allowed to continue with their plan to designate fly ash as a hazardous material, all of these would come to a halt.

The expense of handling the byproduct would increase logarithmically. Coal ash regulation would also increase our electricity prices. By increasing the cost of power, it understandably causes the price of producing American-made products to increase, putting America at a severe disadvantage against our foreign competition.

The EPA's plan would be an unmitigated job-killer -- that's why their regulatory impact analysis of this proposed rule dared not include an estimate of the potential effect on economic productivity, economic growth, employment, job creation, or international economic competitiveness.

In interagency comments on the EPA's proposed coal ash rule, the Departments of Interior, Transportation, Agriculture and Energy, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Office of Management and Budget, have all expressed concerns about the negative impact such a designation would have on our economy. Even President Obama's Council on Environmental Quality stated that "it will be very expensive to regulate coal combustion residuals with likely little environmental benefit based on what has been presented thus far."

Not only is coal ash non-hazardous, its use is actually beneficial for the environment. For every ton of cement manufactured, about 6.5 million BTUs of energy are consumed, and about one ton of carbon dioxide is released. If we replaced that ton of cement with fly ash, we could save enough electricity to power the average American home for 24 days, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions equal to a two-month use of an automobile. Even the EPA's headquarters was built with a significant amount of fly ash mixed into the concrete matrix.

Let me be clear: if there is a scientific consensus that fly ash is a hazardous material, then we should regulate it as such. The truth is, however, that there isn't a scientific consensus that fly ash is a hazardous material; in fact, there appears to be a consensus that it is non-hazardous. Before it's too late, the EPA should abide by the scientific findings of their previous studies and not abuse their regulatory authority by introducing more uncertainty into the marketplace for coal.

That's why I introduced H.R. 1391, which would prohibit the EPA from regulating coal ash as a hazardous material. Under my legislation, the EPA would be free to set handling standards on fly ash that states would be required to enforce. But the states would retain the jurisdiction over this non-hazardous material, rather than the EPA. Over a dozen members of Congress from both parties are co-sponsoring the legislation, and its prospects for success are promising. For the sake of protecting the environment, jobs and middle-class electricity consumers, it should become law.

Rep. David McKinley represents West Virginia's First Congressional District.

Read the article online HERE.