U.S. House advances WV Rep. McKinley’s bill to give states control over coal ash residuals programs

http://www.statejournal.com/story/29615663/us-house-advances-wv-rep-mckinleys-bill-to-give-states-control-over-coal-ash-residuals-programs

By Sarah Tincher, Energy Reporter
The State Journal

The U.S. House of Representatives advanced an effort made by U.S. Rep. David McKinley, 8162251_GR-W.Va., to “clarify” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recent coal ash regulations.

McKinley first introduced the “Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act,” H.R. 1734, in April as a response to “ambiguity” in the EPA’s December 2014 coal ash rule, which works to regulate the storage and disposal of coal combustion residuals from coal-fired power plants.

The House passed the bill July 22 with a 258-166 vote, which was primarily fueled by Republican support with only 19 Democrats voting in favor of the measure. The bill aims to allow each state to adopt, implement and enforce its own coal combustion residuals permit program.

According to McKinley, under the EPA’s rule, the agency would not have control over state-run programs, “(the bill) sets it up so that (the programs) would be governed primarily through lawsuits,” McKinley said. “The term in Washington is ‘self-implementing,’” he added.

“Rather than promoting lawsuits to block this, this legislation makes it very clear that the state will be providing oversight and it will be up to the state to do the oversight and management,” he said.

McKinley first fought against the rule in 2013 with the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, which aimed to prevent the EPA from designating the material as a hazardous waste product and set up a state-based regulatory program to monitor coal ash.

In its final rule, the EPA ultimately decided coal ash is not hazardous, though the agency could still determine otherwise in the future.

While McKinley praised the EPA for qualifying coal ash as non-hazardous and said the rule was “well-intended,” he said, “Language in the preamble that says EPA can reverse this in the future causes some uncertainty.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., introduced companion legislation in the Senate last week.

However, the White House issued a statement July 21 expressing strong opposition to the bill, saying it would “undermine the protection of public health and the environment” provided by the rule.

While the Administration said it “supports appropriate State program flexibility,” the statement said H.R. 1734 modifies or waives critical protective requirements in the rule, such as authorizing states to implement permit programs that would not meet a national minimum standard of protection.

The Administration said President Obama would veto H.R. 1734 if it were presented to him as it was drafted

Some environmental groups also expressed opposition to the bill.

“The McKinley bill will wipe out the modest protections put forward by EPA on coal ash and makes clear that House Republicans will stoop to any low to push the toxic agenda of the fossil fuel industry,” Dalal Aboulhosn, Sierra Club’s senior Washington representative for Clean Water Protections, said in a statement. “It does nothing more than weaken, and in some cases eliminate, the modest gains won by communities living in the shadows of coal ash sites around the country.”

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