Senators John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have introduced a much-awaited coal ash bill in the Senate that they say will provide more certainty than will the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) final rule alone.
The bill introduced on July 17 is companion legislation to a measure introduced by Reps. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and David McKinley (R-W.Va.) in the House. It seeks to set up similar improvements to enforcement mechanisms required by the EPA’s final rule, requiring states to set up permit systems for coal ash sites.
The EPA’s final rule, which was signed on Dec. 19, 2014, will become effective on Oct. 14, 2015. When promulgated, industry lauded the agency for the rule’s classification of coal combustion residuals (CCR) as non-hazardous waste under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
Observers have noted, as did the Senators on Friday, that the rule does not provide non-hazardous designation certainty to coal ash recyclers or create an effective enforcement mechanism for the disposal of coal ash. The new Senate bill will permanently designate coal ash as non-hazardous.
It will also incorporate standards in the EPA’s coal ash rule for disposal in enforceable, mandatory state permit programs, and provide state regulators the same flexibility for implementing groundwater monitoring and corrective action standards that is currently provided under existing Municipal Solid Waste regulations, the lawmakers said.
Some Republicans have criticized the EPA’s rule as a minimum “one-size-fits all standards” for the management and disposal of coal ash in landfills and surface impoundments. States, on the other hand, have complained that RCRA’s structure complicates the rule.
State regulators and industry representatives have urged lawmakers in the House and Senate to pass coal ash legislation to resolve complications related to state permitting programs that conflict with the federal program, and to provide certainty—especially because a rash of citizen suits are certain to follow publication of the final rule.
Coal ash disposal has been fiercely debated since the devastating coal ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston coal-fired plant in 2008. That event prompted the EPA to propose the nation’s first-ever coal ash rules in 2010.
In February 2014, the debate was renewed when a stormwater pipe beneath a coal ash storage pond collapsed at a Duke Energy facility in Eden, N.C., sending up to 39,000 tons of coal ash and about 25 million gallons of ash impoundment water into the Dan River.
Environmental group Earthjustice said in a statement on July 17 that the new bill would “eliminate, weaken and delay protections in the long-awaited and first-ever national coal ash rule, before it’s even implemented.”
—Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)