House Backs New Plan for Coal Ash
“Electric cooperatives are gratified to see the strong bipartisan support for economically prudent legislation that protects beneficial reuse of coal ash while bringing much-needed regulatory certainty. We hope this same spirit of bipartisanship holds in the Senate,” English said.
English said the measure helps to ensure that coal ash, also known as coal combustion residuals, a common byproduct of coal-based plants, can continue to be used in building and construction materials, such as wallboard.
About 45 percent of all electric utility coal combustion residuals is recycled for beneficial purposes.
Coal ash legislation has been a top priority for electric co-ops. They have opposed a 2010 proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency to subject the common byproduct of coal-based plants to federal standards for handling and disposing of hazardous waste.
Kirk Johnson, NRECA senior vice president, government relations, said a call to members in the week before the vote produced more than 6,100 messages to House members through the association’s grassroots Take Action Network.
That followed a similar call last fall that generated more than 11,000 messages to EPA, opposing the hazardous waste plan.
“We’re extremely pleased with the way our members have responded to this issue. They understand its implications for the cost of electricity and the beneficial use of recycled coal combustion residuals,” Johnson said.
EPA had said in 2000 that coal ash was not a hazardous waste, but revisited the issue following a major December 2008 spill from a failed impoundment at a Tennessee Valley Authority plant.
The agency has not finalized a coal ash rule; its proposal in 2010 offered two options—a hazardous designation and a non-hazardous designation. EPA estimated the compliance costs of the hazardous designation at $10.9 billion in 2016.
The agency has said it does not expect to finalize a rule until 2013, so now is a good time for Congress to weigh in on guidelines, Johnson said.
The House bill would enable states to enforce federal standards established by the new legislation. EPA could step in if a state decides not to proceed with enforcement.
“A hazardous waste designation would be extremely harmful to our nation’s economy. With 50 percent of our nation’s electricity generated by coal, all of those utility customers would see higher rates if this designation was made,” said Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., chairman of the House Environment and the Economy subcommittee.