House Passes Coal Ash Bill

A bill passed by the House is aimed at bringing certainty to plant operators with coal ash impoundments. (Photo By: iStockphoto)

A bill passed by the House is aimed at bringing certainty to plant operators with coal ash impoundments. (Photo By: iStockphoto)

A bill strongly endorsed by electric cooperatives that regulates coal ash under a new state-run program has sailed through the House of Representatives and is on its way to the Senate.

by Steven Johnson, ECT Staff Writer, published July 26, 2013

The House backed the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act of 2013 on July 25 by a 265-155 vote. Thirty-nine Democrats voted with 226 Republicans to pass the measure, which includes new standards for disposing of coal ash, a common byproduct of coal-based power plants.

“For the first time, there will be a uniform national standard for disposal,” said Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., who sponsored the legislation. “After countless hearings, meetings, and amendments, we come here with a solution.”

Kirk Johnson, NRECA senior vice president of government relations, said the bipartisan vote shows the level of strong support for dealing with the issue.

“This will provide much-needed certainty for electric utilities and ensure that the reuse of coal combustion residuals will continue benefiting our economy,” Johnson said. “We will now work with the Senate to pass appropriate legislation.”

Co-ops have been among the staunchest advocates of the legislation. On July 22, NRECA and more than 50 statewide associations and G&Ts signed a letter to House members, urging them to support the bill.

In May 2010, Environmental Protection Agency proposed regulating coal ash for the first time under federal hazardous waste standards. Electric co-ops and other groups maintained that would unnecessarily drive up compliance costs and thwart the beneficial use of recycled coal ash in construction materials.

Approximately 45 percent of overall electric utility coal combustion residuals are used in gypsum wallboard, concrete and other applications.

The legislation gives states, instead of EPA, primary responsibility for regulating coal ash impoundments in accordance with some federal guidelines. It eliminates the possibility that coal ash would be subjected to hazardous waste management and disposal rules.

“States, utilities, and hundreds of thousands of workers in the recycling industry have been waiting in limbo for a resolution. This bill meets those needs,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich.

Contrary to most environmental legislation that has cleared the House, the Obama administration did not issue a veto threat. Instead, the White House said it wants to work with Congress to fill in what it called “gaps” in the legislation.

That includes defining authority to address inactive or abandoned disposal sites and setting groundwater protection standards, it said in a statement.

The coal ash debate gained momentum following the December 2008 failure of a Tennessee Valley Authority impoundment at Kingston, Tenn. TVA announced late last month it has completed the removal of more than 3 million cubic yards of ash and is on schedule to complete the cleanup by early 2015.

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