House panel passes GOP coal ash bill

A subpanel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a Republican-backed bill aimed at adding certainty to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) coal ash disposal rule.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), passed 16 to 5 Wednesday, with three Democrats joining all the Republicans to vote for it.

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McKinley’s bill answers a number of concerns Republicans and utilities had with the EPA’s December rule, which set the first national standards for storage and disposal of coal ash waste at power plants and in landfills.

The House bill improves enforcement mechanisms by requiring states to set up permit systems for coal ash sites, while removing some of the requirements of the EPA rule, like public disclosure of the status of disposal ponds and pits.

Rep. John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusIllinois House Republicans call on Trump to not commute Blagojevich's sentence Overnight Energy: Fight over fuel standards intensifies | Democrats grill Trump officials over rule rollback | California official blasts EPA chief over broken talks | Former EPA official says Wheeler lied to Congress California official blasts EPA head over car standard negotiations MORE (R-Ill.), the chairman of the environment subcommittee, said the bill addresses industry concerns while preserving the important protections of the EPA rule.

“The bill requires every state have a permit program and every permit program will contain

minimum requirements based on EPA’s final rule,” Shimkus said before the vote.

“This is a good bill. EPA developed technical requirements for coal ash that are protective of

human health and the environment,” he said. “This bill utilizes those requirements and makes them part of enforceable permits.”

But Democrats argued that the bill is unnecessary, and would push back deadlines while weakening the rule.

Rep. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoLawmakers criticize EPA draft rule for curbing rights to challenge pollution permits House Democrats push automakers to rebuff Trump, join California's fuel efficiency deal Overnight Energy: Democrats seek help in appealing to conservatives on climate | Whistleblowers say Interior sidelined scientists | Automakers strike fuel efficiency deal with California in rebuff to Trump MORE (D-N.Y.), the subcommittee’s top Democrat, urged his colleagues to wait to see how the EPA’s rule is enforced.

“Ultimately, the only real test of whether this rule takes the correct approach or not is by implementing it,” he said.

“The bill before us claims to mimic the protections by the EPA’s final rule. But that claim is in serious doubt,” Tonko continued. “The claims made about the rule that it may lead to dual enforcement or excessive lawsuits may prove to be true or prove to be not true.”

The subcommittee voted down a pair of Democratic amendments aimed at strengthening the bill’s requirements for utilities.

Mathy Stanislaus, the EPA’s assistant administrator for solid waste, testified before the panel Tuesday. He defended the agency’s rule, though he declined to take a position on the legislation.