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House GOP wants changes to EPA coal ash rule

House Republicans released draft legislation that they said would add certainty to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) coal ash disposal regulation.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. David McKinleyDavid Bennett McKinleyEnergy secretary says pipeline setbacks pose national security issue MLB, Congress play hardball in fight over minor leagues Koch campaign touts bipartisan group behind ag labor immigration bill MORE (R-W.Va.), would build upon the EPA’s December rule, preserving many of the rule’s main provisions that protect human health and the environment, its supporters said.

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“This legislation will bring much-needed certainty to the rules surrounding coal ash,” McKinley said in a Wednesday statement announcing the bill.

“The EPA’s regulations offer more confusion and no reassurances that President Obama won’t change his mind later,” he said. “We can finally solve this problem and protect 316,000 jobs that rely on coal ash by passing this legislation.”

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on the environment, chaired by Rep. John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusAsbestos ban stalls in Congress amid partisan fight Women rise on K Street — slowly Bottom line MORE (R-Ill.), will hold a hearing next week to debate the draft bill.

Coal ash is often stored in massive ponds near power plants adjacent to waterways. It contains substances like mercury, arsenic, lead and chromium, and has caused some high-profile environmental disasters in recent years.

The EPA’s December rule sets the first federal standards for coal ash storage and disposal. But environmentalists complained that the agency does not have any authority to enforce the rules, and the standards themselves are weaker than greens had hoped.

At a hearing in January, House Republicans said the rule did not provide enough certainty that the EPA wouldn’t later make standards more strict. It also opened utilities up to litigation over their coal ash ponds.

McKinley’s bill would allow states to adopt the EPA standards and enforce them or stronger standards. The EPA would be able to set up enforcement programs in states that do not comply.

But while citizens would still be allowed to sue utilities, McKinley’s bill would no longer require power generators to publicly disclose information about the coal ash ponds, a provision in the EPA’s rule that it said would enable lawsuits.

Shimkus said the bill strikes the right balance.

“We share the same goal as EPA: to improve protections for health and the environment,” he said in a statement. “But our bill goes a step further than EPA and breathes real-life enforcement authority into the standards. By putting states in charge of implementation, we can achieve the protections we all want and give job-creators the certainty they desperately need.”