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Tr-Ash Talk: Coal Over Clean Water

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22 June 2011, 8:38 AM
House bill would prevent federal regulation of coal ash
Rep. David McKinley

Tomorrow morning, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will vote on a bill to eviscerate the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate coal ash, introduced by Rep. David McKinley (WV-R).  To quote Jeff Goodell of Rolling Stone, this is not just a fight about coal ash,  “it's about demonizing the EPA, stalling the clean energy revolution, and putting corporate profits above public health and a sustainable planet.”  Goodell used these words in a recent editorial, referring to the latest corporate nonsense from AEP, the power company that decried its “premature retirement” of plants over half a century old.  While not directly about coal ash, the shoe fits.   

Goodell also is right that this is all about money. 

For the only the third time in the 35-year life of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the statute that protects Americans from the dumping of hazardous waste, Congress is intervening to prevent the EPA from regulating a specific hazardous waste. 

The first time was in 1980 when another coal state congressman, Tom Bevill, did the bidding of the utility industry and exempted coal ash and a few other favorite wastes from regulation pending study. That legislation, called the Bevill Amendment, is responsible for the total absence of any federal regulations controlling coal ash disposal and the legacy of exceedingly poor and often non-existent state programs. 

Now, over three decades later, in response to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s proposed coal ash rule, Rep. McKinley wants a permanent off-ramp for coal ash. Forget the fact that coal ash is the most voluminous industrial waste in the U.S. (second only to mining waste) and that coal ash can kill you when it gets in your water.  Forget that it contains arsenic, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead and mercury and a long list of other pollutants that can injure every major organ in your body, and that the EPA’s proposed rule was in response to a coal ash disaster of mythic proportion in Tennessee.

The bottom line is that this waste is produced by coal-fired power plants.  According to Rep. McKinley, this makes the waste above federal law.  The power that these plants produce extends far beyond kilowats. 

Watch the vote on Thursday and see if your Congressperson eagerly votes for a bill that extends indefinitely the life of this nation’s 676 deadly coal ash ponds and prevents the EPA from establishing the only thing that will protect the lives of Americans and increase safe recycling—a federally enforceable coal ash rule.

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