House Bill Would Give EPA Enforcement Authority over Coal Ash Under Subtitle D

Date: July 29, 2010

Source: News Room

House lawmakers are expected to introduce a bill that would give EPA first-time authority to enforce solid waste rules for coal combustion residues (CCR) in an effort to avoid more stringent regulation as hazardous waste, which industry argues would result in far less recycling, higher power costs and lost jobs from recycling and plant closures. Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC), the chairman of the House small business committee's rural development panel, held a July 22 hearing on the issue that he and other lawmakers are developing legislation to give EPA authority to enforce CCR rules under subtitle D of the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA). Since the massive 2008 Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash spill, EPA has been under pressure to regulate coal ash but has had to decide whether to regulate it as a subtitle D or as a "special waste" under more-stringent subtitle C rules for hazardous waste, the latter would give the agency direct control over its disposal. Industry has argued that a hazardous waste designation, even under limited conditions, would create a stigma that would discourage companies from recycling the material. However, EPA and environmentalists say there is no proof of such a stigma and argue hazardous waste rules could actually motivate utilities to increase recycling to avoid costly new disposal requirements.

PRESS RELEASE

Proposed EPA Coal Ash Rule Could Hurt Small Firms

July 23, 2010

Washington, DC Recycling industry entrepreneurs today told a key Congressional panel they are concerned new regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could stop them from converting coal-fired power plant waste into safe, ecofriendly building products. During a hearing of the House Committee on Small Business' Rural Development, Entrepreneurship and Trade Subcommittee, witnesses said the rules could raise utility rates and cause layoffs.

"Utilization of coal combustion waste in products like cement can reduce the need for other raw materials, lower production cost, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Subcommittee Chairman Heath Shuler (D-NC). "With a balanced policy approach that promotes the beneficial use of coal ash, we can help preserve our environment, while creating new opportunities for small businesses."

Coal-fired power plants produce nearly half of the power generated in the U.S., creating 136 million tons of coal combustion byproduct called "coal ash" in the process. While it can have negative impacts on the environment and be costly to dispose of or store, entrepreneurs have developed safe uses for coal ash, recycling 50 million tons in construction products like concrete, cement and gypsum wallboard. North Carolina entrepreneurs testified today that coal ash has been used safely in concrete mixes by their state's highway department for two decades because it makes building materials stronger, while reducing construction costs by $5 million a year. Rural electric utilities in the state have also invested in scrubbers, which reduce power plant emissions by capturing the ash.

"Innovative North Carolina entrepreneurs are working hard to help reduce pollution and replace the jobs we've lost to outsourcing by creating good-paying jobs here at home," Shuler said. "It's important to foster green industries that put people back to work and promote a healthier environment for our children and grandchildren."

The EPA is proposing new regulations for coal ash aimed at addressing safety and environmental concerns. Depending on how those regulations are crafted, coal ash could be regulated like a hazardous waste, a move that has raised concerns among small businesses. During the hearing, entrepreneurs in the recycling industry said that a hazardous waste classification carries a stigma and would raise liability fears, making it difficult to use coal ash in building materials. Lawmakers also questioned whether the EPA had evaluated the full impact the proposed rule might have on small businesses. In one exchange with lawmakers, the EPA witness conceded that stiffer regulation of coal ash could potentially cause a 6 percent increase in electricity rates.

"Small businesses involved in the recycling, handling and transportation of coal ash stand to suffer serious economic harm if the EPA doesn't get this right," Shuler said. "I agree that we need strong and enforceable regulations at the federal level for coal ash storage and disposal. I want to work with EPA on a solution to provide better environmental protection without the economic damages of regulating coal ash like a hazardous waste--when it really isn't."

The EPA's proposed rule was released in late June and public comments are being accepted until September 20. During today's hearing, Shuler said he was preparing legislation to help address entrepreneurs' concerns.

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