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Tr-Ash Talk: Two Years is Too Long

Although the EPA’s proposed coal ash rule was published two years ago, a final rule is nowhere in sight. Two years is more than enough time for the EPA to decide on a set of reasonable, health-protective standards for the country’s second largest industrial waste.

The EPA blames the delay on 450,000 public comments. However, the EPA considered more than 900,000 comments on the Mercury Air Toxics Standard (MATS) in less than a year. Given its ability to process double the number of comments in half the time, it appears that the EPA is burying a public health standard for political reasons. Throughout this delay we’ve seen a torrent of lobbyists and elected officials riding a flood of industry money, sailing in repeatedly to try to finish the EPA’s jobs.

The industry money is on the McKinley coal ash bill. This legislation is like the Die Hard movies: the evil attacks just keep coming. This ALEC-linked bill preserves the status quo of inadequate state regulations and removes the EPA’s authority to regulate the waste. While it is uncertain whether Title V will end up on the final transportation bill, the well-funded mission to stop the EPA’s coal ash rule is not likely to end anytime soon—especially if yesterday’s debate on the House floor is any indication.

Those House members seeking to legislatively erase the EPA’s coal ash rulemaking left truth at the chamber door and vigorously extolled the virtues of ash recycling, without once mentioning the millions of tons of toxic waste that threaten our drinking water, air and rivers. One of the most absurd comments was uttered twice by Rep. David McKinley. The congressman accused all those who opposed his bill of not understanding the amendment, though it’s evident he himself doesn’t understand the legal and practical implications, which ensures his own constituents will continue to get dumped on.

A report issued this week by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) on McKinley’s coal ash bill explains the bill thoroughly, and much of what the representative says about his own bill is dead wrong. The CRS found that while Title V would indeed establish a state “permit program,” the bill would not require states to actually impose the bill’s requirements on coal ash facilities. Further, states could waive any of the “standards” in the bill and would not have to demonstrate authority to enforce those standards. In fact, the CRS report makes clear that McKinley’s bill is unlikely to result in meaningful changes to currently deficient state programs.

So, three and a half years after the worst toxic waste spill in U.S. history and two years after the proposal of regulations, where are we?

For one, we have generated nearly half a billion more tons of toxic coal ash and dumped at least half of it in an aging fleet of unlined and leaking landfills and ponds. We have discovered about 100 more contaminated sites where water has been poisoned by hazardous chemicals like arsenic, lead and hexavalent chromium. And the EPA, which three years ago stood strong before Congress and said it would take care of the problem, now lurks empty-handed and silent, watching as industry-funded bills threaten to remove entirely its authority to regulate this toxic waste—authority which the agency has held for more than 30 years.

Rep. McKinley talks repeatedly about a “war on coal.” This is more like a well-orchestrated war on public health protections and we’d like to see EPA get in the fight.