Obama Administration Threatens Veto of House Coal Ash Bill

The Obama Administration on July 21 threatened to veto a coal ash bill that is currently pending in the House and Senate, saying it would undermine protections in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) recently finalized rule on disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCR).

The EPA rule, issued in December 2014, drew mixed reactions from the coal industry and states with coal-fired power plants. While praising the decision to treat CCR as non-hazardous waste, observers also noted that it could complicate state-level enforcement. After the rule was issued, a number of states asked Congress to clarify certain elements of the rule.

The bill, introduced by Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in the Senate and Reps. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and David McKinley (R-W.Va.) in the House, seeks to refine the EPA rule by allowing greater flexibility in enforcement at the state level and making the designation of CCR as non-hazardous permanent.

While saying it supported “appropriate State program flexibility,” the administration statement said the bill would weaken the EPA rule because it would allow states “to implement permit programs that would not meet a national minimum standard of protection.” It also said the bill does not give the EPA “an opportunity to review and approve State permit programs prior to implementation, departing from the long-standing precedent of previously enacted Federal environmental statutes.”

The White House also complained that the bill would weaken environmental protections by delaying requirements on structural integrity, eliminating restrictions on proximity to drinking water sources, and relaxing requirements that unlined impoundments must close or be retrofitted with protective liners if they are leaking.

The CCR bill is only one of a far-reaching array of energy legislation that Republican lawmakers in Congress are moving forward with this year, some of which the administration supports while others target key priorities such as the Clean Power Plan.

Most recently, the House Energy and Commerce Committee on July 20 unveiled a package that would implement many of the infrastructure recommendations contained the Quadrennial Energy Review released in April.

—Thomas W. Overton JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).

SHARE this article