Authored by Sara Jerving of PRWatch.org and ALECExposed.org. Cross-posted with permission from the Center for Media and Democracy.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment on April 18 to the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012 (HR 4348) that would effectively pre-empt the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating coal ash, the waste from coal burning plants, as a hazardous waste. About 140 million tons of coal ash are produced by power plants in the United States each year. There are about 1,000 active coal ash storage sites across the country.
According to the EPA, the ash contains concentrations of arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and other metals, but the coal industry has claimed there is less mercury in the ash than in a fluorescent light bulb. However, the EPA found in 2010 that the cancer risk from arsenic near some unlined coal ash ponds was one in 50 – 2,000 times the agency’s regulatory goal. Additionally, researchers from the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and Sierra Club have documented water contamination from coal ash sites in 186 locations. The new bill would strip the EPA’s authority to regulate the ash and hand it over to the states.
The coal industry and its allies have been pushing several levers to stop the EPA from regulating coal ash, including passing resolutions through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Along with its coal ash provisions, the transportation bill, which is intended to extend highway and transit funding through September, includes measures that would advance the controversial trans-Canada Keystone XL pipeline.