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Tr-Ash Talk: This is About Health, Not Jobs

The anticipated vote on H.R. 2273, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, will be upon us Friday. The bill (sponsored by Rep. David McKinley (WV-R)) would prevent the EPA from establishing a strong national rule to protect American’s health and drinking water from the nation’s second largest industrial waste stream: coal ash.

There are myriad health hazards associated with coal ash disposal sites, due to the many toxic chemicals that are contained in the ash such as arsenic, hexavalent chromium, lead and mercury, just to name a few.  From high cancer risk from poisoned drinking water, to blowing toxic dust, to the risk of catastrophic collapse, too much is at stake to not properly regulate this toxic waste.

But we know now that a strong coal ash rule includes another benefit: 28,000 new American jobs every year.

Like Chicken Little, Republican co-sponsors of H.R. 2273 and the industry lobbyists who are pulling their puppet strings, cry far too often that the sky is falling. Biased and misleading industry-sponsored reports estimate incorrectly that federal regulation would sacrifice as many as 316,000 jobs.

In contrast, Frank Ackerman of Tufts University  issued a report  yesterday that breaks down how EPA regulation of coal ash would affect jobs. Ackerman finds that, rather than killing jobs, the regulation would actually create a net of 28,043 jobs. Regulating coal ash is not about jobs, but HEALTH. (And if you agree that public health must supersede unfounded industry fears, please take action here.)

Ackerman explains that in the industry’s study, more than 50,000 of the jobs are “completely unexplained.” And another 200,000 come from the exaggerated effects of a possible 1-percent increase in electricity rates.

Job creation is a necessary part of the discourse on any impending bill, but when it is done so carelessly, it sacrifices much-needed public health protections in the name of politics.

Ackerman writes that the effects on employment are not the only basis on which to judge proposed regulations, nor the most important. The stated purpose of EPA regulations is to protect public health and the environment. Specifically:

EPA and independent researchers have identified many health hazards associated with coal ash disposal sites; drinking water from wells near one type of ash disposal facility can create a one in 50 chance of getting cancer from arsenic in the water. A biologist has identified $2.3 billion of fish and wildlife losses due to releases of pollutants at 22 coal ash disposal sites. These are the types of issues that should be central to the debate on regulatory proposals.

Ackerman arrives at the conclusion that the bill would NET 28,000 jobs. He ends his piece: "This conclusion doesn’t, by itself, clinch the argument for such regulation. But it does free us of the unfounded fear of massive job loss, allowing us to evaluate the regulation on its merits.”

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