McKinley Touts Coal Ash Bill

Morgantown Dominion Post
6 June 2013
By David Beard

Rep. David McKinley addressed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concerns in his revised coal ash bill, he told reporters Wednesday afternoon, and at this point the EPA doesn’t oppose the bill.

“I hope that they’ll continue to stay with us,” he said.

House Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus, R-Ill., said his panel will mark up the bill — HR 2218, The Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act — today. It was introduced Monday, and no date is set for the full Committee on Energy and Commerce to take it up.

Coal ash is a byproduct of coal combustion used as an additive to concrete and drywall, and in such things as countertops and bowling balls. About 140 million tons a year are produced, and about 40 percent of it gets recycled into various products, said McKinley, R-W.Va.

The remainder has to be disposed of. Much gets used to mitigate acid drainage from surface mines. The rest goes into landfills, where it raises concerns of leaching toxins — arsenic, cadmium, selenium, mercury and lead — into waterways. The EPA has proposed classifying coal ash as a hazardous waste.

“This is a legislative remedy that has been 32 years in coming,” McKinley said. He first learned of the issue before his first run for office and has been tacking it. His first bill on the issue passed the House last Congress but died in the Senate. An effort to attach it as an amendment to last year’s compromise transportation bill also failed.

McKinley said he believes states are better equipped than the EPA to regulate it. The bill provides minimum federal standards for regulating coal ash but allows states to craft a permit program that works for its own needs.

Wrapping in some Senate provisions, the bill requires installation of groundwater monitoring at all structures that receive coal ash; requires deadlines for certain surface impoundments to meet a groundwater protection standard or be closed; and improves the structural stability and dam safety requirements by requiring an engineer’s certification and annual inspection.

Economic outlooks

Nick Goldstein, with the American Road and Transportation Building Association, said a study by his organization showed that the EPA’s proposal could increase the average costs of building roads and bridges nationwide by $5.23 billion a year — $104.6 billion over 20 years.

With regulatory uncertainty, he said, the industry has been unable to move forward in using it. “People don’t want to use it not knowing what’s going to happen.”

A different report, in 2011 by Veritas Economic Consulting, said classifying coal ash as a hazardous waste could cost 183,000 to 316,000 lost jobs across the nation — 41,000 to 73,000 in the region that includes West Virginia — and $78.9 billion to $110 billion over 20 years. McKinley and other bill proponents frequently cite those figures.

Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator of the E PA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, addressed the subcommittee about the draft bill in April. He noted a variety of concerns, most of which appear to have been addressed in the introduced bill.

EPA couldn’t be reached in time for this report Wednesday afternoon, but in April, Stanislaus said the agency had no position on the draft bill — which has since been revised.

Opposition views

The Dominion Post provided the Sierra Club West Virginia chapter with a copy of the bill and asked if appears to be any better than last year’s, which Sierra opposed.

Executive Committee chair Jim Sconyers said in an email, “Better — not really. Its primary effect remains keeping the EPA from regulating this massive toxic waste stream. Handing it to the state — we know how that works. State agencies like our WVDEP can’t or won’t provide effective protection for our citizens. McKinley is at least consistent — he continues to act to protect the profits of the coal and electric power industry and not the health and safety of his constituents.”

Shimkus said he “respect - fully disagrees” with Sierra’s position on the Department of Environmental Protection. McKinley said the EPA has twice before — in 1993 and 2000 — declared coal ash nonhazardous, and there are far worse things to worry about going into landfills — battery acid, motor oil and more.

The environmental group Earthjustice also opposes the bill. It said in a release this week, “Once again, Rep. McKinley has ignored science, safety standards, and coal ash problems in his own district in order to deliver a bill that threatens community health and safety, water quality, and caters to industry demands.”

A 2010 study by Earthjustice and Physicians for Social Responsibility asserted that coal ash is toxic and can leach even from lined landfills.

Capito and Rahall

McKinley’s West Virginia colleagues, Republican Shelley Moore Capito and Democrat Nick Rahall, are co-sponsors. They commented via email.

Rahall said, “Finding ways to address the byproduct of coal ash has long been important to ensuring the continued use of coal in energy and manufacturing plants, while also ensuring the safety of communities throughout West Virginia. Most importantly, HR 2218 would tighten monitoring of groundwater near impoundments and includes measures to better ensure the structural integrity of those impoundments, something I have long supported.”

Capito said via email, “EPA’s coal combustion residuals proposal would not only add billions of dollars annually to the cost of producing electricity, but it would also have a negative impact on the reuse of coal ash for cement, concrete, and other construction materials. … This year’s bill preserves the core of last year’s proposal, with changes that should help the bill win more bipartisan support. I am proud to cosponsor this important bill and look forward to seeing it enacted.”