The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday advanced a set of four bills that it said would "improve" environmental regulations and increase state authority, including legislation that would task states—not the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—with the responsibility to set up coal ash disposal rules.

In another much-watched hearing last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee heard testimony from recently sworn-in Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.

Advancement of Coal Ash Bill

On Wednesday, the committee voted 31 to 16 and passed with bipartisan support an amended version of H.R. 2218, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, that was introduced earlier this month by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.). The legislation retains some of the same principles the lawmaker proposed in similar legislation that passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 267 to 144 in 2011. It also contains requirements for groundwater monitoring at all structures that receive coal ash after the legislation’s enactment and corrective action for unlined, leaking impoundments within a specified time period, as outlined in a previous Senate bill.

The EPA in June 2010 proposed the " Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR)" rule, calling for federal regulations on coal ash for the first time. Coal ash is currently considered exempt waste under an amendment to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). But experts suggest there is a greater likelihood that the EPA will consider regulating coal as a nonhazardous municipal and solid waste under Subtitle D of RCRA rather than as a special waste under Subtitle C, which subjects the material to stricter waste management rules. The move might ameliorate industry complaints about the EPA’s recent string of stringent regulations on coal-fired power plants.

On Wednesday, the Energy and Commerce Committee also passed by a 25 to 18 vote H.R. 2279, the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act, authored by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). That bill removes two "impractical and unnecessary" deadlines under RCRA and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The legislation also protects the financial responsibility requirements of states and other federal agencies by ensuring that financial responsibility requirements promulgated by the EPA under CERCLA will not preempt existing requirements unless the EPA determines it is necessary.

Other bills passed include H.R. 2226, the Federal and State Partnership for Environmental Protection Act, authored by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), which increases state participation in the Superfund process, and H.R. 2318, the Federal Facility Accountability Act, authored by Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio). That bill ensures the federal government is a "good neighbor" when operating a site subject to a Superfund cleanup by requiring federal facilities to comply with relevant state and local laws during the CERCLA process.

Moniz Outlines DOE’s Options

In a June 13 hearing before the Energy and Commerce Committee, Secretary Moniz testified to Congress for the first time since being sworn in.

Moniz outlined several DOE goals and achievements, including those related to energy policy, science, nuclear security, and management. He is "in tune" with the president’s "all-of-the-above" strategy, he said, and urged lawmakers to support cutting-edge research across the board, including support for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), and the DOE’s loan programs office. "When you are talking about cutting-edge clean energy technologies, not every investment will succeed—but the latest indications show that the Energy Department’s portfolio of more than 30 loan projects is delivering big results for the American economy," he said. (For unpromising news about ARPA-E, see “ Energy and Water Spending Bill Proceeds with Deep Cuts for Renewables, ARPA-E.”)

Nuclear energy is also an important part of the strategy, said Moniz, who was part of the Blue Ribbon Commission that submitted recommendations to Congress on how the nation could deal with its nuclear waste dilemma. "The Administration has issued a strategy that embraces the core findings of the BRC, but the path forward requires Congressional action. I look forward to working with Congress on expeditiously implementing policies that ensure that our nation can continue to rely on carbon-free nuclear power," he said.

Notably, Moniz said he is considering options to consolidate DOE science and energy program management, and that he also intends to create a stronger independent oversight function that will report directly to him. He will also work to organize forums with councils of advisors on issues ranging from cybersecurity to national labs management.

Moniz also said he will consider liquefied natural gas export terminals expeditiously in the current order outlined by the Energy Department, adding that he anticipates a decision will be made by the end of the year.

Sources: POWERnews, House Committee on Energy and Commerce

—Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)