The U.S. House passed a bill that blocks the Obama Administration from regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) hailed it as a jobs bill. The environmental group Earthjustice called it a setback for the environment.
The American Coal Ash Association, which has long lobbied for such a bill, hailed it as a victory.
The bill, H.R. 2773, passed the House by a vote of 267 to 144. It would keep coal ash, which has gained extensive use as a byproduct in materials such as cement, regulated by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency as a solid waste.
McKinley said in his news release that the bill would ensure the continued beneficial use of coal combustion residuals and strengthen state regulatory authority over these materials under the Solid Waste Disposal Act.
McKinley said it could protect up to 316,000 jobs from being eliminated. He argued that two EPA studies in the past have found that coal ash is not a hazardous material and has no record of human health risk.
“This is a jobs bill and a public health bill; protecting the livelihoods and the health of our working men and women are not mutually exclusive ideas,” McKinley said.
“We’ve been pressing for this for some time,” says Tom Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association, in an interview. “It’s been affecting how recycling is seen in the marketplace. We think the bill provides adequate health protection and allows the recycling industry to go on.”
Earthjustice said there is evidence that coal ash sites have groundwater contamination from arsenic, lead and other toxic metals, and that tough federal regulation could create 28,000 jobs each year.
“This Congress is turning its backs on what hundreds of communities living near coal ash ponds and landfills really need,” said Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice, in their press release. “Coal ash is a toxic menace.”
The bill now moves to the Senate. Adams says he is encouraged that the Senate will act on it quickly, as it has bipartisan support. He acknowledged that President Obama has been critical of the bill but he has not threatened a veto in his most recent statements.
“We do need a resolution, and the quicker the better,” Adams says. The longer there’s uncertainty, he adds, the harder it is for coal ash to be accepted as a byproduct by customers. “In the marketplace, if people have a choice, they’ll clearly go for the one without the black cloud.”