Tr-Ash Talk: GOP Rushes to Quash Protections for Coal Ash
Reps. David McKinley (R-WV) and John Shimkus (R-IL) are on a mission to ram through an anti-public health, anti-public safety and anti-environmental coal ash bill. After filing their trifecta on the evening of June 3, the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy voted on June 6 to pass HR 2218, the Coal Residuals Reuse…
Reps. David McKinley (R-WV) and John Shimkus (R-IL) are on a mission to ram through an anti-public health, anti-public safety and anti-environmental coal ash bill.
After filing their trifecta on the evening of June 3, the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy voted on June 6 to pass HR 2218, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act of 2013 (“CRRM”), a complicated bill designed to prevent the EPA from ever regulating coal ash.
HR 2218 would cement the status quo of weak state controls over disposal of toxic ash by removing the EPA’s authority to regulate, and preventing effective federal oversight of state programs. As the Congressional Research Service has pointed out in two recent reports, the bill is unique among federal environmental laws in its failure to require state programs to meet a national standard of protection of health and the environment. Without federal protection, communities remain in harm’s way from the catastrophic collapse of old dams and from leaking chemicals into drinking water and air.
Among the bill’s many fatal shortcomings, HR 2218:
- Fails to establish essential dam stability requirements
- Fails to set a hard deadline for the issuance of permits
- Fails to protect communities from toxic dust blowing from ash dumps
- Fails to establish a federal backstop allowing EPA to enforce requirements if a state is unable or unwilling to do so
- Fails to require leaking dumps to close by a certain date, even when dumps are poisoning aquifers and violating groundwater protection standards
- Fails to control coal ash dumps that have stopped accepting ash
- Fails to guarantee meaningful public participation in permitting dumps
Despite some inconsequential eleventh-hour changes since HR 2218 was introduced as a draft in April, CRRM remains fatally flawed. But the unresolved issues haven’t stopped the House from pushing forward. They are all too eager to sweep the toxic ash into the air and water of our poorest communities and communities of color, while EPA appears entirely unable to stand up for those same vulnerable citizens.
While we wait for EPA to find its inner rulemaker, we cannot allow the House to cram CRRM down our throats. No matter how you slice it, HR 2218 cannot and will not protect the health, safety and environment of hundreds of thousands of citizens unfortunate enough to live near coal ash dumps.
Earthjustice legislative representative Andrea Delgado sums it up:
The only thing this bill is concerned about protecting is the polluter’s ability to get away with poisoning communities and leaving their mess behind for someone else to clean up.
It’s a shame that this subcommittee, which should be putting its time and resources into matters that protect our health and environment, is more concerned with finding ways to destroy them.
Specializing in hazardous waste law, Lisa is an expert on coal ash, a toxic byproduct of burning coal that burdens communities around the nation.
Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.