Coal Ash Controversy Ratchets Up

on August 19, 2011 at 2:00 PM

A controversy over regulation of coal ash disposal has reached fever pitch in Illinois, where a group opposing efforts to limit new regulations began briefing the public and the media on the current status of those efforts.

Eleven Illinois Representatives are voting to prevent the US Environmental Protection Agency from implementing safeguards to improve toxic coal ash waste dumps within the state. The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and the Prairie Rivers Network (PRN) hosted a live telephone conference this week, in which professionals and residents expressed their disbelief over a lack of action on coal ash dumps.

The public debate over pollution from coal is usually focused on air emissions. For more on that debate, as well as the reliability impacts from new emissions rules, read Energy’s Four Letter Word.

The act responsible for the chaos is the HR 2018 Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011 passed by the US House of Representatives on August 13. Referred to as the “Dirty Water Act” by opponents, this act puts restrictions on the EPA’s ability to monitor clean water supply. and received the support of ten state House representatives.

“Under the Obama Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency has been over-aggressive and over-regulating the rights of states to make their own decisions,” said Congressman Joe Walsh, who voted in favor of the Act. “I supported this bipartisan legislation because it ensures a balance in the federal-state partnership in implementing and enforcing the Clean Water Act.” said Congressman Joe Walsh, one who voted in favor of the Act.

In addition, the eleven total representatives voted in favor of H.R. 1 Amendment 217 which prohibited use of certain funds to regulate coal combustion residuals as hazardous waste or material. Although he voted against the HR 2018, Dold is the eleventh US representative to vote against EPA intervention with his support for Amendment 217.

What To Do With The Dump?

Illinois has the second highest concentration in the US of coal ash dump sites, according to the PRN. Groundwater sampling conducted by the Illinois EPA indicated that contamination has occurred at each of the 22 sites evaluated, sparking strong opposition to the elected officials’ votes.

Additional legislative action proposed, including HR 2273, has added further complexity to the issue. HR 2273 is an amendment to the Solid Waste Disposal Act that would provide for proper management and disposal of materials generated by coal combustion. Only two of the eleven US representatives targeted by Illinois activists this week voted in favor of that bill, which focuses on what industry experts deem the beneficial aspect of the hazardous waste.

“We hope that it will be brought to the floor and will pass because rather than telling the EPA what it shouldn’t do, it is directing how coal ash should be regulated as a nonhazardous waste by the state,” said Utility Solid Waste Activities Group Executive Director Jim Roewer. “We think it offers a good solution to ensure that there will be a federal floor of regulation that the states could then build on and develop a permit program to ensure the environmentally protected management of coal ash.

“It incorporates standards for facility design, groundwater monitoring, groundwater protection programs for corrective action, closer, and financial assurance. It will assure that facilities are constructed and operated in a safe manner,” Roewer said of HR 2273

Local Voices

Participants in the conference call on Illinois’ coal waste dumps included PRN water resource scientist Traci Barkley, director of Coal Combustion Waste Initiative Jeff Stant, local minister Matthew Withers, resident Phil Marcy, and director of programs for Appalachian Voices Matt Wasson. The array of guests offered various perspectives on the situation, but all agreed that the representatives put their concern for the industry over the well-being of the citizens.

“We’d like them to step back and think about if their families lived around one of these ash ponds or dumps in the state and would they feel that it is okay to just let the status quo continue,” said Stant.

“Elected officials need to understand that they are supposed to represent all American citizens in their districts,” said Withers. “They are listening with unnecessary fervor to the coal and ash industry as opposed to the people that put them in office.”