The Times West Virginian

Opinion

August 1, 2013

Reusing coal ash in common-sense, productive manner best way to proceed

No matter how what many consider to be a “war on coal” in the United States is ultimately resolved, one fact is clear.

Coal will be a significant part of the nation’s energy picture for decades to come. There is simply no replacement on the immediate horizon.

That means the country will be dealing with “coal ash.”

Why not do so in a common-sense, productive way? There are much better options than having it in landfills and impoundments.

Legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., would move the country in that direction, and it has something so often lacking in Washington, D.C., these days — bipartisan support.

House Resolution 2218, co-sponsored by 54 other members of the House, passed last Thursday. The bill, if it becomes law, would encourage the industrial reuse of the byproducts of coal combustion and prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating it as a “hazardous” material.

The measure passed in the House by a vote of 265-155 and will go to the Senate. McKinley believes it may garner support from members of both parties to the point that it may end up on President Barack Obama’s desk.

“The president has not threatened to veto this bill,” McKinley said after the bill passed the House. “I’m very comfortable that we’ve reached the level of conversation we needed to have on this piece of action. Just think of the number of jobs that could very well be protected.”

The congressman said the number is 316,000 — those who help transform coal ash into building materials like concrete, cement and gypsum wallboard, as well as structural fill, as a waste-stabilization ingredient and as blasting grit.

The United States, McKinley noted, is not now making optimum use of coal ash.

He said that about 60 percent is put into landfills and impoundments, which is one of the highest rates of disposal in the world. In Japan, he noted, 95 percent of coal ash is reused.

“(Other countries) are finding ways to use these products so they are not taking up virgin land to fill with fly ash material that could be used for some other purpose,” McKinley said.

Other examples for the use of coal ash can be found in agriculture for fertilization and in the oil-drilling industry, McKinley pointed out.

“They are finding a whole host of new varieties of ways to use this product, but we just have to remove the stigma associated with it as being potentially a hazardous material,” the congressman said. “Then we will start recycling more. There won’t be this threat of it being (impounded) in your backyard and in your water system. Wouldn’t it be great if we could recycle 80 or 90 percent of it?”

McKinley labeled his bill “a very comprehensive approach, and even the EPA has said that this is a bill that they can work with. This issue isn’t going to go away. It’s just wrong for us to be arguing over it after 33 years. This is a compromise rule. The EPA was involved in it. The labor unions, the recyclers, 300 groups from across the country were in support of this bill. I think we’re going to find that it’s the best bill we’ve had on it in 2 1/2 years.”

Thirty-nine Democrats voted for the bill in the House, including 3rd District Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.

“Finding ways to address the byproduct of coal ash has long been important to ensuring the continued use of coal in energy and manufacturing plants, while also ensuring the safety of communities throughout West Virginia,” Rahall said. “Most importantly, the legislation approved by the House (last week) would tighten monitoring of groundwater near impoundments and includes measures to better ensure the structural integrity of those impoundments, something I have long supported.”

Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., was a co-sponsor of McKinley’s Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act.

Capito said the legislation, if it passes the Senate and is signed by the president, “will stop the EPA from implementing new job-killing coal ash regulations by empowering states to create a permit program that meets their individual needs, while still providing environmental safeguards. This legislation ensures that job creators receive the regulatory certainty that they need and that coal ash can continue to be used in a productive way.”

We strongly encourage the Democrat-controlled Senate to take an honest look at the bill and not dismiss it simply because it deals with the use of coal.

As Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said about the issue last year, “In West Virginia, we are already closely monitoring coal ash storage and disposal facilities to ensure coal ash is handled safely — and we are doing it well. The last thing we need is additional regulations that would threaten many good-paying jobs in our state.”

Let’s instead have legislation that focuses on safety, increases jobs and sparks production of needed materials that have uses across the country. That’s what’s found in McKinley’s bill.

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