In Closing Days of 112th Congress, Rare Opportunity Emerges to Pass Bipartisan, Bicameral Agreement on Coal Ash
As the 112th Congress comes to a close, Americans are looking for solutions to provide certainty in the new year. While there are plenty of issues where a consensus has not yet emerged, there is at least one remaining question where a bipartisan agreement has already been reached – how to best regulate coal ash. After the House approved Rep. David McKinley’s (R-WV) bill last fall, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced similar legislation to provide a state-based regulatory framework for the safe management, re-use, and disposal of coal residuals. House and Senate leaders have agreed on this bipartisan, bicameral approach.
Why We Need Coal Ash Legislation
Coal ash is a byproduct of coal-fired electricity generation that has been safely recycled and used in construction materials for decades. EPA’s proposed plan to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste would increase costs for coal-fired power plants and threaten the beneficial use of coal ash, putting hundreds of thousands of jobs in jeopardy and driving up electricity prices and construction costs. At least one analysis shows the administration's regulatory plan could result in job losses totaling over 300,000. Moreover, EPA’s rule is mired in litigation, creating massive uncertainty for businesses.
A Bipartisan Solution Has Already Been Crafted
Congressional leaders have provided a regulatory solution that protects both jobs and the environment. S. 3512, the Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act of 2012, creates a state-based permitting program under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) for the management and disposal of coal ash. This legislation sets a new course for environmental regulation - the statute sets enforceable, minimum federal standards but leaves the implementation and enforcement to the states because the states are better equipped to understand local needs and to issue and enforce permits.
Enhanced Environmental Protections and No Regulatory Gaps
The bill leaves no regulatory gaps and enhances protections. All states will have a coal ash permit program in place to protect human health and the environment. If a state declines or fails to implement a program, the authority to implement a program would be granted to EPA. Among the statute’s enforceable standards, all coal ash storage sites must have requirements for groundwater monitoring and new sites must have protective liners. The bill also requires corrective action for unlined, leaking impoundments within a specified time period.
“This legislation is good for the environment and the economy,” said Rep. McKinley. “We have a bipartisan agreement on how to move forward to ensure both jobs and communities are protected. If given the chance, this legislation will prove to be an effective law.”