Strike Three: CRS Makes Key Call on McKinley’s Coal Ash Bill
In advance of an upcoming vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week, the nonpartisan think tank, Congressional Research Service (CRS), delivered a frank memorandum evaluating HR 2218, the latest effort by Rep. McKinley (R-WV) to prevent the EPA from completing its coal ash rule. CRS exposes HR 2218’s superficial “fixes,” concluding that the bill still fails to establish federal health and environmental standards and cannot guarantee nationwide protection from toxic contamination.
Previously, CRS has been similarly highly critical of efforts in the House and Senate to block regulation of coal ash. CRS reports in December 2012 and March 2013 concluded that the House bills led by Rep. McKinley and Senate bills backed by Sens. Hoeven (R-ND) and Baucus (D-MT) failed to guarantee protection of human health and the environment—in stark contrast to all major federal environmental statutes passed over the last four decades.
In response, Rep. McKinley made mostly cosmetic changes to his dangerous bill, and today CRS called his bluff. CRS’ latest report to Congress should settle any remaining controversy over what his confusing new verbiage accomplished in HR 2218. This new disastrous bill is a charade of words—HR 2218 squarely fails to cure fatal deficiencies identified in the two previous CRS reports.
CRS concludes that HR 2218 is “unique” among federal environmental laws because it:
- Fails to establish minimum national safeguards;
- Fails to establish federal backstop authority;
- Fails to define what facilities the bill applies to; and
- Fails to contain any minimum federal requirement to protect health and the environment.
Because of these deficiencies, CRS holds that HR 2218 cannot guarantee a consistent level of protection nationwide from the thousands of dumpsites potentially releasing hazardous chemicals into water supplies, rivers, creeks and air. CRS writes, “EPA is not directed to promulgate regulations that could be interpreted as minimum national (i.e., federal) criteria applicable to CCR management.” CRS states further that there is no provision in the HR 2218 that “explicitly requires agencies implementing the permit program to establish criteria applicable to CCR structures that will be those necessary to achieve a specific federal standard of protection.” In fact, CRS states:
“[t]he degree to which a state program may protect human health from risks specific to CCR disposal would not be known until individual states begin to interpret the directive in proposed Section 4011 and to promulgate regulations according to individual state interpretation.”
In addition, CRS finds that HR 2218’s treatment of these issues is essentially the same as the previous bills. Lastly, HR 2218 still contains grossly insufficient structural stability standards, inadequate controls on toxic dust, and few guarantees of public participation for affected communities. It also fails to set hard permit deadlines.
On Wednesday, the team of anti-public health, anti-EPA and pro-coal industry will bring their bill to a vote in the full House Energy and Commerce Committee. Yet Rep. McKinley’s bill remains a dangerous vehicle, intended to shield industry from the reasonable standards already in place for decades for the nation’s household trash landfills and dams (holding anything but coal ash).
It is time to stop this deadly game and provide genuine health and safety protections for the nation’s most vulnerable communities. Lives and livelihoods are at stake. All House committee members with a sense of fair play must vote no on HR 2218.