Legislation, Top Story

Bipartisan Backing for Coal Ash Bill

By Steven Johnson | ECT Staff Writer Published: August 9th, 2012

A bipartisan group of senators is making a push to reform the way coal ash is regulated, and electric cooperatives say they welcome the effort as a way to resolve a major unsettled issue.

Sen. John Hoeven

Sen. John Hoeven

A bill co-sponsored by 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans gives states a new role in setting up permitting programs for coal ash impoundments, while emphasizing recycled coal ash’s beneficial use as a construction material.

The legislation also would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from classifying coal ash as a hazardous waste. Co-ops have opposed that designation, saying it would improperly subject it to federal hazardous waste management requirements for the first time.

Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Max Baucus, D-Mont., are the chief sponsors of the measure. They called it the result of months of negotiations designed to win support from senators in both parties and bring regulatory certainty to affected industries.

Kirk Johnson, NRECA senior vice president, government relations, said co-ops back the legislation and will work for its passage in the remaining months of the 112th Congress.

“We strongly support the bill and greatly appreciate the leadership of the sponsors and the bipartisan support the bill has received,” he said.

Regulation of coal ash has been clouded by uncertainty for more than two years, after EPA announced in June 2010 that it would consider regulating it as hazardous waste.

Co-ops delivered thousands of comments about the proposed regulations to EPA, which does not plan to finalize a rule until 2013. A member resolution also encourages NRECA to oppose the hazardous waste classification.

Some 72 million tons of coal combustion residuals are produced annually in the U.S., mostly for buildings, roads and other infrastructure projects.

The House approved a coal residuals bill last October, but that failed to gain sufficient backing in the Senate.

The state permitting programs under the Hoeven-Conrad-Baucus bill would be based on federal standards for the management, disposal and oversight of coal ash, ensuring protective linings for impoundments and monitoring of nearby groundwater.

“At a time when our nation very much needs jobs and economic growth, our bill will help to create both, while also helping to lower the cost of energy for American families and businesses,” Hoeven said.

Conrad called the bill a “common sense approach” that allows the states to act within federal standards.

“This approach would ensure that coal-fired power plants can continue operating efficiently and providing affordable electricity to consumers. It will also mean that road builders can continue to use coal ash to make concrete roads and bridges both stronger and more affordable,” he said.

“This bill strikes a good balance to continue our strong commitment to protecting our outdoor heritage while supporting industries that turn coal ash into jobs building roads and bridges,” added Baucus.

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