By Misty Poe
Times West Virginian
If someone declared materials within drywall to be “hazardous,” you wouldn’t use it to finish the basement of your home.
If a component of cement was declared “hazardous,” no contractor in his right mind would use it in a building intended for public use.
The bipartisan House Resolution 2218, sponsored by U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and co-sponsored by 54 other members of the House, passed Thursday. If enacted, the bill 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 where McKinley believes it may actually garner support from members of both parties to the point that it may end up on President Barack Obama’s desk for a signature.
“The president has not threatened to veto this bill,” McKinley said during a conference call with reporters following the vote on the House floor. “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 offered the number as 316,000 — those within the recycling industry 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.
In 1980, Congress passed an amended law that prevented the EPA from regulating coal ash as a hazardous material unless there was a study done that determined it was warranted. In 1993 and again in 2000, the EPA ruled that it was not necessary to regulate coal ash. However, in 2010, the EPA issued a proposed rule that would require regulatory management of the disposal and reuse of the products from coal combustion.
But there hasn’t been any determination one way or the other for the past 33 years, and McKinley hopes this measure will be enacted to prevent coal ash from filling up landfills and can be used in a productive way to reduce construction costs.
“This is a very comprehensive approach and even the EPA has said that this is a bill that they can work with,” McKinley said. “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.”
McKinley said that in the United States, about 60 percent of coal ash is put into landfills and impoundments, which is one of the highest rates of disposal in the world. The congressman said that in Japan, for example, 95 percent of coal ash is reused.
“The big thing here is that we’re really hoping that in the long run that there won’t be as much material (in landfills and impoundments),” McKinley said. “(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.”
Other examples for the use of coal ash can be found in agriculture for fertilization and in the oil drilling industry, McKinley said.
“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?”
Of the 265 House members who voted in favor of McKinley’s bill, 39 were Democrats, 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 following the passage of the bill. “Most importantly, the legislation approved by the House today would tighten monitoring of groundwater near impoundments and includes measures to better ensure the structural integrity of those impoundments, something I have long supported.”
Completing West Virginia’s delegation of support for the bill was Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who was also a co-sponsor of McKinley’s Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act.
Capito said the provision “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.”
“Many West Virginians have already been laid off as a result of the EPA’s burdensome regulations, and this legislation will play a key role in preventing further job loss,” she said.
Email Misty Poe at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @MistyPoeTWV.