GOP pushes for vote on amendment to coal-ash regulations

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These are the two coal ash ponds on the edge of Charlottes main drinking water reservoir.
  • These are the two coal-ash ponds on the edge of Charlotte's main drinking water reservoir.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been trying to decide what to do about coal ash for decades. It has made deals with the industry, promised to regulate coal ash — the second largest waste stream in the U.S. and virtually unregulated at the federal level — and called the major spill in Tennessee in Dec. 2009 one of the largest in environmental disasters in our country's history. (The Tennessee spill, incidentally, was only one of many coal-ash spills that have occurred in the country in recent years).

The EPA held hearings on coal ash, one here in Charlotte, and collected nearly half a million comments, which the agency says it is still sorting through. EPA officials still say they are not sure when the agency will be able to enact the regulation, if at all.

Now, the U.S. House of Representative's David McKinley (R-WV) is pushing for Congress to bypass all of that and vote on an amendment to the coal-ash regulations — which the EPA still hasn't issued, by the way — (most likely) today via H.R. 2273: Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act.

Lisa Evans, an environmental attorney with Earth Justice and a former EPA employee, calls the bill "horrendous," adding, "This bill threatens the health of thousands of Americans nationwide by allowing states to continue operating leaking and dangerous coal ash dumps without requiring basic safeguards and virtually blocking EPA from stepping in to protect communities."

Evans urges people to call their representatives and, again, comment on coal ash, asserting that "...passage of H.R. 2273 will endanger Americans nationwide by allowing the indefinite operation of dangerous coal-ash ponds like the one that collapsed in Tennessee in 2008, by allowing the continued poisoning of drinking water and fouling of air with ash containing arsenic, hexavalent chromium, lead, mercury and other hazardous metals, and by preventing EPA from enforcing safety standards at coal ash dumps and preventing the Agency from ever regulating coal-ash disposal in the future."

Creative Loafing recently ran a cover story on the coal-ash issue to mark the one-year anniversary of the EPA's hearing in Charlotte, entitled, "Government oversight remains 'grossly inadequate' in coal-ash waste control." A year before, we asked, "Is coal ash poisoning Charlotte-area drinking water?"

Here's the crux of the bill before Congress today: they're trying to amend the EPA's coal ash regulations, even though they have yet to be enacted (there's no ETA on the regs, either), that will allow the states to continue on with their mishmash of regulations, though they're not actually requiring the states to do anything. Essentially, this is yet another way that the GOP is working to undercut the EPA's authority instead of allowing them to do their job and make good on their promise to regulate coal ash. (The EPA originally promised to announce that regulation by the end of 2009 but then the political system.)

UPDATE: The bill didn't move on Thursday, but is on the U.S. House of Representative's agenda for next week.

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