U.S. House Standing Up for Coal Ash Recycling

            The U.S. House of Representatives will likely vote later today or tomorrow to put the brakes on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency efforts to label coal ash a “hazardous waste.”  Lawmakers are set to consider an amendment offered by Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia that would cut off funding for any EPA effort “to develop, propose, finalize, implement, administer, or enforce any regulation” as a Subtitle C “hazardous” waste.

            The amendment was filed during debate over the House’s “Continuing Resolution” – a bill that would extend the current federal budget before it expires on March 4 for the rest of the fiscal year.  As such, the EPA funding prohibition would expire at the end of September and need to be raised again in a future Appropriations bill.  Additionally, whatever bill the House ultimately passes this week will also have to be considered by the Senate and ultimately signed by the president.

            Nevertheless, the inclusion and potential approval of Rep. McKinley’s amendment shows a strong sentiment in the House against EPA’s proposal to regulate coal ash disposal as a “hazardous waste.”  The coal ash regulation issue has been raised in at least three recent Congressional subcommittee hearings, with Members of Congress expressing strong concerns over the possible impact of EPA’s proposed regulations, including harm to coal ash recycling efforts.  A second amendment to block funding for regulations designating coal ash “hazardous” was also offered by Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida before it was withdrawn to focus on the amendment by Rep. McKinley.

            Anti-coal environmental groups have predictably reacted against the House’s action with inflammatory rhetoric.  An email appeal by the Environmental Law and Policy Center wrote “Coal ash is toxic.  Coal ash, the by-product of burning coal, contains high levels of toxic heavy metals such as arsenic and cadmium… Pro-polluter House Representatives want to bypass the public process and protect industry profits, instead of public health… The amendments would lead to lax oversight of coal ash dumping and would guarantee that polluters will continue to dump coal ash in leaking pits.”

            In reality, the amendments would do nothing to prevent EPA from moving forward with its proposal to regulate coal ash disposal as a non-hazardous waste.  EPA’s proposed landfill engineering standards are the same for both its hazardous and non-hazardous proposals, so it is hard to see how the non-hazardous approach results in more “leaking pits.”  Furthermore, these “pro-polluter House Representatives” are actually taking a stand in favor of coal ash recycling – a practice that conserves significant amounts of energy and natural resources, keeps material out of landfills in the first place, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by more than 10 million tons every year.  That makes these Representatives more concerned about the environment than environmental activists who appear willing to sacrifice the coal ash recycling industry in their single-minded attacks on coal.

            Another curious accusation by environmental activists can be seen in a blog posting by Earthjustice representative Lisa Evans.  In reaction to the House amendments, Ms. Evans wrote: “The highwaymen of the 112th Congress are trying to take away the authority of the EPA and rob the will of the people…”  Based on the outcome of EPA’s recent public comment process on coal ash regulations, which included eight all-day public hearings and hundreds of thousands of written comments, the “will of the people” appears strongly tilted against the “hazardous waste” designation Earthjustice favors. 

            Supporters of a hazardous waste designation, for the most part, have gained their knowledge of coal ash from large, well-funded, anti-coal environmental groups. These well-meaning citizens end up being only partially informed because those major environmental groups completely ignore options for safe and responsible recycling of coal ash – never even mentioning coal ash recycling in any of their publications.

Supporters of a non-hazardous waste designation are citizens who have spent decades doing what’s right for the environment – creating safe and environmentally beneficial uses for coal ash that keep it out of landfills in the first place.  These people are recyclers, architects, engineers, concrete producers, farmers, and more.  Most of them are small businesspeople and all of them consider themselves environmentalists, too, because they are working every single day to conserve energy and materials and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  This group of citizens has been unanimous in stating that a Subtitle C hazardous designation for coal ash will wreck recycling of the material in this country and possibly worldwide.  These are the citizens “the highwaymen of the 112th Congress” are stepping up to support.

Posted by: on: Feb 18, 2011 @ 04:12