The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

June 7, 2013

McKinley: New coal-ash bill tackles EPA concerns

MORGANTOWN — For two years, one of the two professional engineers in Congress has pushed a bill to let states regulate fly ash from coal-fired power plants, a move U.S. Rep. David McKinley says would benefit coal and power companies and the construction industry he’s worked in since the 1960s.

Each time, the West Virginia Republican’s bill clears the House, only to die in the Senate.

But McKinley says this year is different: The latest version of the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act (H.R. 2218) was crafted with input from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which McKinley said is “not opposing” the draft that cleared a House subcommittee Thursday.

“We’ve listened and reacted,” he said, “and we’ve listened again.”

EPA officials told The Associated Press they can’t comment on pending legislation.

But at a House subcommittee hearing in April, an official in the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response said the agency supports “the development, implementation and enforcement of appropriate standards for facilities managing coal ash, while encouraging the beneficial use of this economically important material.”

Coal ash is used in materials ranging from concrete and drywall to countertops and bowling balls.

The U.S. produces about 140 million tons of fly ash a year, and EPA calls “coal combustion residuals” one of the nation’s largest waste streams. It says about 34 percent is landfilled every year, while another 21 percent is dumped in impoundments. About 37 percent is “beneficially used,” and about 8 percent is used in coal mine reclamation projects.

Though coal ash contains arsenic, selenium, lead, cadmium, and mercury, it’s not considered hazardous waste.

Environmental activists worry about water contamination nonetheless. And they see little improvement in the latest bill.

“Its primary effect remains keeping the EPA from regulating this massive toxic waste stream,” said the West Virginia Sierra Club’s Jim Sconyers, who questions the ability of states to properly monitor the waste and protect citizens and the environment.

“McKinley is at least consistent,” Sconyers said. “He continues to act to protect the profits of the coal and electric power industry, and not the health and safety of his constituents.”

McKinley’s northern West Virginia district is home to millions of tons of coal ash dumped in strip mines and waste ponds, and his office in a Morgantown retail center sits in the shadow of a power plant. He says encouraging the recycling of coal ash just makes sense.

McKinley says some states have no solid waste programs to dispose of coal ash, and the need to get rid of it won’t disappear.

State regulators are already “handling other products that are far more hazardous than this product,” he adds, pointing to chemicals, batteries and other “far more difficult issues” for landfills. McKinley contends they’re more prepared to regulate coal ash than the EPA, which proposed doing so in 2010 but has yet to act.

“This is a product that has already been deemed recyclable,” McKinley told reporters in a conference call this week. “We have to remove the stigma.”

EPA says some elements in coal ash “can pose threats to public health and the environment, if improperly managed.”

At the April hearing, the agency cited dozens of cases in which coal ash had potentially damaged groundwater and surface water supplies, mainly from unlined and unmonitored waste pits.

Legislation must include such things as timelines for the implementation of state programs and criteria for EPA to determine when a state program is deficient, the EPA said. It also must contain rules for waste pits, including deadlines for closing those that are leaking or abandoned.

McKinley’s bill has a good chance of passing the Republican-controlled House again, but its prospects in the Democrat-controlled Senate are unclear.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has sponsored Senate versions of the legislation and said Thursday he will support it again because it’s “a common-sense way to protect good-paying jobs and our environment.”

But Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said people are understandably worried about safety.

“That tells me we need to find a way to do this cleaner and more carefully,” he said.

“We need a solution that works for both local communities and industry, protects public health and the environment, and enables the government to act quickly if a dangerous situation arises,” he said in an email. “I’m hopeful that we can work together on a real bill to address these needs.”

 

1
Text Only
West Virginia
  • Some state Democrats flip to GOP

    As Republicans rally for more control in West Virginia’s long-time Democratic Legislature, a few Democrats have jumped ship to the GOP and are challenging former colleagues in midterm races.
    Republicans face their biggest election opportunity in decades in the House of Delegates, where a four-seat swing would put them in power for the first time in 85 years.

    April 20, 2014

  • Gee’s move could save Ohio State millions

    Ohio State University expects to save millions of dollars because former president Gordon Gee is giving up part of his retirement package as he becomes president of West Virginia University for the second time.

    April 19, 2014

  • W.Va. AG court filings: Dismiss gun law question

    The attorney general says a court challenge should be dismissed over whether West Virginians can bring guns to city recreational facilities that hold school events.
    Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s filings Thursday argue the city of Charleston shouldn’t receive court guidance on how to implement a state gun law.

    April 18, 2014

  • Energy-state Dems split from Obama

    Scrapping to keep a West Virginia Senate seat Democratic in a state that’s sprinted to the right, Natalie Tennant is counting on her allegiance to the coal industry to separate herself from an unpopular President Barack Obama.
    Her approach reflects common Democratic strategy and tactics this midterm election year in energy-producing states that lean Republican: Sen. Mary Landrieu is vying for a fourth term representing Louisiana; Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is running for re-election for the first time; and Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes wants to replace Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    April 17, 2014

  • Official: $2M in chemical spill costs reimbursable

    Public agencies and nonprofits that helped after a Jan. 9 chemical leak into the water supply could receive $2 million in reimbursements for their emergency work, a West Virginia homeland security official said.
    Federal and state emergency officials briefed fire departments, paramedics and other government groups Wednesday on how to recoup costs.

    April 17, 2014

  • Manchin urges mines to speak out for coal

    The Democratic senator leading the battle against the White House’s strategy to fight climate change urged the mining industry on Tuesday to speak out about coal’s role in providing affordable, reliable electricity to the country to help combat strict new emissions rules for coal-fired power plants.

    April 16, 2014

  • Many schools already meet new mandate for breakfast

    Many West Virginia public schools have changed the way they serve breakfast to students ahead of a requirement that goes into effect in September.

    April 14, 2014

  • W.Va. grower promotes unmodified feed corn

    Lyle Tabb is hoping that his non-genetically modified corn will take off with farmers who can charge top dollar for “all natural” eggs.
    Genetically modified or GMO corn has greatly simplified the process of getting rid of weeds, but has also substantially increased the amount of a chemical call glyphosate.

    April 13, 2014

  • Geologists link small quakes to fracking

    Geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue new permit conditions Friday in certain areas that are among the nation’s strictest.
    A state investigation of five small tremors last month in the Youngstown area, in the Appalachian foothills, found the injection of sand and water that accompanies hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Utica shale may have increased pressure on a small, unknown fault, said State Oil & Gas Chief Rick Simmers. He called the link “probable.”

    April 12, 2014

  • Phares looks forward to retirement

    James Phares looked forward to the challenge and opportunity to help make a difference in a state education system under fire when he was hired in late 2012 as West Virginia’s schools superintendent.
    After 18 months, Phares will be stepping down on June 30 — which he said was set long ago as the day at age 61 that he’d walk with his wife into retirement.

    April 11, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads