The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday voted to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the waste from coal-fired power plants as a hazardous material, taking a swipe at a long-running movement to establish stricter protections against the toxin-laden waste from leaching into the water.
“This is a very scary prospect for communities living near coal-ash dumps–it’s a huge step backwards,” said Lisa Evans, an attorney with Earthjustice who has spent years pushing for federal regulation of coal-waste sites.
Republicans, who have pushed all year to rein in the EPA, have singled out the agency’s proposed coal-ash regulations as an example of regulatory overreach. With almost 40% of the coal waste recycled into cement, wallboard and other products, Republicans have sided with the business sector and warned that an entire industry would be stigmatized if the waste were regulated as hazardous. Another concern is that a proposed EPA rule would wind up forcing power plants to make expensive upgrades to disposal sites, raising electricity costs in the process.
“This is not a time for people who dislike fossil fuels to be pushing their personal agendas and ideologies,” said Rep. Dave McKinley (R., W. Va.), the sponsor of the bill. “To those who lack compassion and understanding about the real world–these are real jobs at stake here–it’s really that simple.”
What “overreaching” public health and safety rules did the EPA seek to implement?
Even so, one of the EPA’s two approaches would have regulated coal ash under laws treating the byproduct as a hazardous waste, giving federal officials enforcement powers, creating disposal restrictions and effectively phasing out the use of ash ponds and forcing power plants to shift to landfills.
A large section of bluff collapsed Monday next to the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant, sending dirt, coal ash and mud cascading into the shoreline next to Lake Michigan and dumping a pickup truck, dredging equipment, soil and other debris into the lake.