McKinley Seeks to Exempt Coal Ash from Federal Regulation Again
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by Jim Kotcon, WV Chapter Conservation Chair |
Makes you wonder if McKinley drinks the same water and breathes the same air the rest of us do!
First District Republican Congressman David McKinley introduced HR 2218, the Coal Ash Residuals Reuse and Management Act, in June. It is a slightly revised
version of a 2011 bill, and retains most of the anti-environmental provisions.
Coal ash, also called coal combustion residuals, is the ash and debris left over from burning coal in power plants. It can also in-clude wastes from scrubbers or fluidized bed boilers. It has high levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, selenium, cadmium, lead and mercury. Although exempted from haz-ardous waste rules for years, EPA has been developing rules to regulate it as a “special waste” to allow appropriate uses while protecting the public from the real hazards contained in the ash. But most coal ash to-day is deposited in unlined landfills or impoundments, or worse, simply dumped at coal mine sites with no meaningful regulation at all.
Problems with HR 2218
Although McKinley touts the benefits of Coal Ash recycling and includes “reuse” in the title of the bill, not one word in the bill addresses coal ash recycling or reuse.
The bill purports to establish a regulatory program for coal ash, but most of the bill creates exemptions, or outright prohibitions, on federal enforcement.
• The bill prohibits EPA from finaliz-ing coal ash rules, first proposed in 2010, and prohibits any new rule-making by EPA for coal ash.
• It allows states to set up a permit program, and directs EPA to defer to those states, even though most states do not have the political will or the capacity to enforce a program.
• The permit program applies only to “structures” (impoundments, landfills, etc.) and explicitly exempts ash disposal on coal mines from any regulation.
• It copies some provisions from municipal solid waste landfill regulations, but exempts leachate collection require-ments for impoundments, allows ash placement below the water table (identified by EPA as the worst case scenario for ground water contamination), and waives key closure requirements.
• The bill allows existing landfills to continue operating for up to seven years with-out a permit, and allows landfills to accept ash for 10 years without a liner.
• Sites with ground water contami-nation must develop a corrective action plan —but that is not required for 10 years, and even that “deadline” may be extended indefinitely if no alternative ash disposal has been developed.
Problems Here at Home
The bill does nothing to address the key ash disposal problems found right in McKinley’s home district. For example, the Albright ash dump in Preston County would not be regulated under this bill because it is no longer receiving ash, even though it is leaking arsenic and has no liner or leachate collection system.
The Coresco ash landfill in Monongalia County and the New Hill West mine are both major ash disposal sites, associated with known stream pollution, yet would be waived under McKinley’s bill as they claim to be operating under mining permits. Coresco proposes a landfill with coal ash hundreds of feet deep, but claims the exemption be-cause it is placed on a former surface mine and accepts wastes from a coal preparation plant.
Even the “Little Blue” impoundment on the border between Pennsylvania and Hancock County, WV—at 1700 acres, it is the largest coal ash impoundment east of the Mississippi River—would find loopholes. McKinley represents Hancock County and has been getting reports of persistent pollution problems for years. Neighbors complain of dust, leaks and seeps, and contamination of drinking water wells. The operator, First Energy, recently agreed to close the impoundment and has bought out some neighboring homeowners. But under McKinley’s bill, some of the minimal protections agreed to by First Energy would not be required. In summary, McKinley’s bill is designed to offer the appearance of regulation, while protecting large coal corporations from any meaningful federal oversight.
Perhaps Chapter Chair Jim Sconyers said it best, “McKinley is at least consistent. He continues to act to protect the profits of the coal and electric power industry, and not the health and safety of his constituents.’’
What You Can Do:
HR 2218 was approved in Committee by a voice vote on June 5 and is headed for the full House. Contact Senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin. Urge them to oppose HR 2218 and to support strong federal enforcement oversight to regulate coal ash disposal facilities. We know the ash has to go somewhere, but it needs to be done safely. West Virginia citizens should not have to be exposed to these hazardous materi-als, and HR 2218 does not protect our health or the environment.