House votes to blunt EPA rules on coal ash

The House voted Friday to override pending Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules on coal ash and clarify that states have the authority to enforce federal coal ash standards.

Members approved H.R. 2273, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, by a 267-144 vote. The bill is the latest in a series of Republican bills aimed at curtailing EPA rules, which they said would help create more business certainty and spur U.S. job creation.

House Democrats have generally resisted all of these bills over the last few weeks, though a fair number of Democrats support them. In today's vote, 37 Democrats voted with Republicans in support of the bill.

The legislation is a response to a pending EPA proposal to regulate coal ash, the residue left from coal-fired power plants, as a toxic substance. Under the bill, states could choose to enforce a new federal standard for coal ash, but could still face EPA oversight if those standards are not met.

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Republicans cast the bill as a sound alternative to what they feared would be a heavy-handed EPA proposal that could significantly raise compliance costs and hurt job creation.

"The results of EPA's regulations would have been devastating on the effects of jobs, higher utility rates at home, and cripple a very successful emerging by-products industry," Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said.

As expected, Democrats argued that giving states more flexibility would only create a "race to the bottom" in which states could effectively compete for having the lowest standard for their companies.

"It replaces those proposals with an ineffective program that won't ensure the safe disposal of coal ash," Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said.

Democrats spent much of the debate saying the House should be focused on job creation, but Republicans said easing onerous federal regulations is precisely the way to create jobs.

"The EPA's proposal to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste threatens industry's ability to recycle this material into beneficial use," Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said, adding that the bill is estimated to help save up to 316,000 jobs. "I'm going to call that a jobs bill."

Like other EPA bills the House has passed, the Senate is not expected to consider the coal ash bill. The Obama administration said Tuesday that it opposes the bill, though it did not say explicitly that it would veto the measure.