News | July 22, 2015

U.S. House bill attempts to wipe out safeguards in EPA coal ash law

Today the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a bill gutting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever coal ash rule.

The bill, proposed by West Virginia Rep. David McKinley, would undermine national standards recently established to protect human health and the environment from coal ash, a toxic byproduct of burning coal for power generation. The existing rule, finalized in December after three years of public comment, already goes to great lengths to incorporate concerns voiced by utilities, recyclers, and states.

In contrast, the proposal under consideration today places the nation’s most vulnerable communities at risk, as nearly 70 percent of coal ash ponds are in areas where income is below average. The provisions included in the bill cannot guarantee public safety nor that citizens near coal ash dumps are informed of drinking water contamination or dam safety problems.

Two proposed amendments to the bill, from North Carolina Representative Alma Adams and Virginia Representative Gerry Connolly, hope to improve public information about coal ash pollution. The first, from Connolly, would require groundwater monitoring at all closed facilities. The Adams amendment would require well-testing around coal ash storage sites. So far, the North Carolina testing has revealed that more than 90 percent of the 285 drinking wells tested show contamination exceeding state safety standards.

This fact sheet on McKinley’s HR 1734 provides further detail on how the bill would undercut EPA’s rule. The concerns include:

  • Delaying health and safety protections, potentially for more than 10 years;
  • Delaying the closure of leaking unlined ponds that have contaminated water and allow such ponds to continue leaking for an additional 8.5 years;
  • Weakening the rule’s mandate to close inactive, contaminated, and abandoned ponds by extending the deadline for closure, allowing legacy ponds to operate without safeguards for at least 6 years;
  • Removing the rule’s national standard for drinking water protection and cleanup of coal ash-contaminated sites;
  • Removing the rule’s national minimum standard for protection of health and the environment and allowing state programs to eliminate critical safety requirements;
  • Prohibiting effective EPA oversight of state programs; and
  • Prohibiting EPA enforcement of state program requirements unless invited by a state.

With so much progress at risk, SELC will be watching this vote closely. Already President Barak Obama’s administration issued a statement threatening to veto the bill if it crosses his desk.