Coal ash bill protects environment, preserves jobs

Since 2009, the EPA and Obama Administration have been preparing a regulation to treat coal ash as a hazardous material. Such a move would increase the costs of building roads and bridges by $110 billion dollars, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders’ Association and, as stated in the Veritas Economic Report, the decision would cost the American economy 316,000 jobs.

ADVERTISEMENT
Coal ash is a key component in concrete and has been used for building highways and bridges around the country for over 80 years. In the last decade over 360 tons of coal ash has been recycled and used in everyday products from concrete, bricks and drywall to cosmetics. In fact, EPA previously conducted two separate studies in 1993 and 2000 and concluded that coal ash is not hazardous and should continue to be beneficially recycled.

In response to the threats to our economy posed by this proposed EPA regulation, I have been fighting to protect the ability to recycle coal ash for over a year now. Most recently I offered an amendment that would provide rigid federal standards for the disposal of coal ash as part of the Surface Transportation Extension Act that passed the House. Previously the bill had passed the House on a bipartisan vote, but had stalled in the Senate. I have continued my fight on this issue, because it is about protecting both jobs and health, while maximizing government construction dollars. 

Here are the facts: currently, coal-fired power plants in 48 states create coal ash every day, but other than recycling there are no federal standards for safe disposal of the product. This is the first time in 30 years that Congress has offered environmentally safe standards for the disposal of coal ash. This language will protect health and jobs, all at the same time. For example: Liners to prevent leakage are mandated under this legislation for new impoundments, as are additional monitoring wells to detect leaks and a requirement for certified inspections of existing dams.

This amendment is both relevant to the transportation bill – after all coal ash is a key ingredient of concrete – and timely. This amendment offers a sincere, bi-partisan solution, finally addressing the coal ash issue. Dozens of government and private organizations, ranging from the Environmental Council of States to labor unions, support the safe recycling of coal ash. However, radical environmentalists have tried to mislead and scare the public on this issue. Some, including my colleague from West Virginia, Senator Rockefeller, have fallen victim to their scare tactics. They are ignoring the environmental safeguards built into the amendment.

Please keep in mind, if this amendment to the Highway Bill is removed, we would return to the status quo of not having a national standard for disposal of coal ash and the environmental issues facing families today would continue. 

Let me be clear: if there is a scientific consensus that fly ash is a hazardous material, than we should regulate it as such. The truth is, however, there hasn’t been scientific consensus that coal ash is hazardous material; in fact, there appears to be a consensus that it is non-hazardous. If this provision is included in the transportation bill, we will save taxpayer dollars on highway projects, protect jobs, and ensure the safe disposal of coal ash.