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September 20, 2012
Coal ash bill would block EPA rule

Twenty-four U.S. senators–12 Republicans and 12 Democrats– have gotten behind a bill that would enable states to take charge of the storage and management of coal combustion residuals (CCRs).  The bill would also prevent the EPA from issuing a rule that would compel handling of CCRs as hazardous Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) wastes. 
The Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act of 2012 (S. 3512) was originally introduced in 2011 and then reintroduced in August 2012 with amendments intended to appease Democrats.  Following the reintroduction, 301 state and national public interest groups claiming to represent people in every state in the country submitted a letter to the full Senate, requesting the bill’s defeat.
Beneficial use
CCRs are by-products of coal-based electricity generation.  Much of the material has been recycled for many years in the construction of buildings, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.  CCRs also contain toxic metals such as arsenic, hexavalent chromium, lead, and mercury.  Power companies store CCRs in liquid or dry form in large surface impoundments or landfills.  In 2008, an impoundment in Kingston, Tennessee, failed and caused large-scale environmental damage.  Environmentalists are concerned that anything less than federal standards requiring management of CCRs as hazardous waste will result in the spread of fugitive dust pollution and endanger sources of drinking water.  Industry claims that a hazardous waste designation will virtually end the recycling of CCRs into useful products.
State permitting
According to Senators John Hoeven (R-ND), Kent Conrad (D-ND), and Max Baucus (D-MT), the three sponsors of S. 3512, the bill would enable states to set up their own permitting programs based on federal standards for the management, disposal, and oversight of CCRs.  “[The bill] would ensure coal ash storage sites have requirements for timely and effective groundwater monitoring, protective lining, and properly engineered structures needed to protect communities and the environment,” say the sponsors.  “States that prefer could grant oversight to the EPA.” 
The bill explicitly prohibits the EPA from finalizing the Agency’s June 21, 2010, proposal to regulate CCRs for the first time under RCRA.  That proposal offered two possible routes–regulating CCRs as either hazardous waste under RCRA Subtitle C or as nonhazardous waste under RCRA Subtitle D. 
Environmental justice
In their letter to the Senate, the groups argued that S. 3512 would allow “dangerous” ponds to continue operating without enforceable closure dates and engineering and inspection standards.  They claim that the bill would also shield utilities from their responsibility to control fugitive dust, upgrade unsafe ash dumps in a timely manner, clean up sites they have contaminated, and close leaking and unsafe ponds and landfills.  The letter argues that the bill sets no deadlines for states to implement a permit program even though there are over 1,300 aging coal ash dumps, most of which currently lack adequate safeguards such as liners and leachate collection systems.  Furthermore, the groups complain that 70 percent of ash ponds are in areas where household income is lower than the national medium and that the bill fails to protect these communities.
S. 3512 is available at http://thomas.loc.gov.  The public interest group letter is at http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/Public-Interest-Letter-in-Opposition-S3512.pdf.

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