News | April 15, 2015

Bill to strip coal ash protections moves forward in Congress

Today the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce voted to move a bill to the floor that would weaken and delay the public health and safety provisions in EPA's already weak new coal ash rule.

H.R. 1734, sponsored by David McKinley (R-WV-01), eliminates EPA’s requirement to immediately clean up toxic releases and notify the public. The bill also holds up implementation of several critical safety requirements, in some cases for more than 10 years. 

SELC Senior Attorney Frank Holleman, who leads the team litigating several coal ash contamination sites across the southeast, summarized the problems with McKinley’s bill.

“Rep. David McKinley's bill would dismantle the EPA’s recently announced coal ash protections, put public health and safety at risk by stripping the few critical safety requirements and protections included in the rule, and result in continuing coal ash contamination with no repercussions or responsibility for cleanup,” said Holleman. “Congress should work to put more – not fewer – protections in place to keep our waterways and communities safe from this toxic substance.”

Citizen lawsuits recently became one of the most important tools to force utilities to clean up their coal ash messes, but the proposed bill curtails public access to information from utilities on coal ash pit assessments, severely weakening these lawsuits.

The EPA coal ash rule, finalized in December, is the first-ever regulation for this toxic byproduct of coal-powered electricity generation. Coal ash is a major industrial waste laden with harmful chemicals like arsenic, lead, and mercury. The prior lack of regulation allowed serious harm to American communities, including more than 200 documented cases of water contamination from coal ash and three major coal ash spills since 2008. While creation of the rule was an important first step, it did not go far enough to insure the health and safety of communities. Instead EPA chose to leave any meaningful protective action and oversight to the states, even as states continually failed to address the widespread threat of coal ash.

This bill is not yet scheduled for consideration by the full House, though it is likely to come up for a vote this spring.

Read SELC Senior Attorney Frank Holleman’s full statement on the bill here