House Votes to Let States Regulate Power-Plant Coal Residue

States would be allowed to regulate the byproducts of coal-fired power plants under a bill the U.S. House passed 265-155.

The legislation would halt the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste -- a category that comes with stringent storage requirements.

The legislation, H.R. 2218, is part of two Republican initiatives -- to ease federal regulations on businesses and to end what they call a war on coal.

“There are some states in this union that coal is their only job and that’s why they fight and they stand up for coal,” Illinois Republican John Shimkus said during the floor debate. “Coal is not just a commodity product, it’s a lifestyle if you live in coal country.”

Shimkus, who said his grandfather first worked in the coal fields at age 10, quoted from a song written by “America’s Got Talent” contestant Jimmy Rose. The chorus: “Coal keeps the lights on.”

Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, said the bill’s backers “are suggesting is that we remove public health protections in order to allow polluting disposal sites to continue with business as usual.”

“That is a little tough to justify,” said Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Minimum Standards

The bill, sponsored by West Virginia Republican David McKinley, would set minimum federal standards for the management and disposal of the byproduct. The EPA would be responsible for certifying state programs. States could implement standards more stringent than those set at the federal level.

Duke Energy Corp., American Electric Power Co., and Georgia Power maintain coal ash storage facilities.

The rulemaking targeted by the bill was set in motion following a 2008 spill in Kingston, Tennessee, that sent more than 5 million cubic yards of coal-ash slurry into the Emory and Clinch rivers.

Representatives adopted by voice vote an amendment by Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly that would require states to develop emergency response plans in case of spills.

The House has passed similar legislation before that died in the Senate.

In its official statement of administration policy, The White House stopped short of opposing the bill, writing instead that officials would like to work with Congress on “appropriate standards for facilities managing coal combustion residuals, while encouraging the beneficial use of this economically important material.”

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