Bill That Prevents EPA From Coal Ash Oversight, Allows Arsenic in Drinking Water Goes to Vote Today (UPDATED: Bill Passes)

coal ash photo

Update: This bill passed the House today, 267 to 144.

Earthjustice calls the bill: "a misguided attempt to neuter the Environmental Protection Agency's attempt to set the first ever federal regulations on coal ash. Despite evidence showing groundwater contamination from arsenic, lead and other toxic metals at hundreds of sites and a recent study showing that federal coal ash regulations would create 28,000 new jobs every year, the House voted to put the interests of corporate polluters ahead of the American public."

Here's the original post:
A House bill goes for a vote today that would not only block the EPA from federally regulating coal ash as hazardous waste, but would force the agency to defer to states in regulatory decisions, making it difficult for the EPA to declare a state program deficient. Never mind that many state programs already are. Coal ash has wreaked havoc on the nation's water supply, but this bill would allow for more coal ash disposal sites that are likely to leak metals like lead and arsenic in far greater amounts.The bill is sponsored by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), who the New York Times reports has received $187,000 in mining related donations, including coal, "more than any other federal candidate this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics," as well as about $46,000 in related donations from utilities, also "among the top getters."

The Miami Herald reports that an EPA analysis of the bill found: "municipal waste landfills had a requirement to 'protect human health and the environment,' but that the coal ash bill didn't use that standard. Without it, the EPA would have a hard time making the case that a state program was deficient."

Americans' Public Health At Risk
Opponents of H.R. 2273 say that it will endanger Americans:

-- By allowing the indefinite operation of dangerous coal ash ponds like the one that collapsed in Tennessee in 2008;

-- By allowing the continued poisoning of drinking water and fouling of air with ash containing arsenic, hexavalent chromium, lead, mercury and other hazardous metals, and

-- By preventing EPA from enforcing safety standards at coal ash dumps and preventing the Agency from ever regulating coal ash disposal in the future.

More specifically, an Environmental Integrity Project report [PDF] says the bill would:

1) allow construction of new coal ash disposal sites that are designed to violate federal drinking water standards for arsenic, cadmium, lead, and other toxins;

2) allow states to waive all of the bill's standards - including the requirement to clean up polluted groundwater that violates federal drinking water limits - by simply determining they were "not needed" for coal ash management.

Additionally, the report says that while the current Safe Drinking Water Act standard for arsenic is 10 micrograms per liter, HR 2273 is based on a weaker standard of 50 micrograms per liter that is no longer in effect. The bill would adopt outdated, less stringent drinking water limits for lead, cadmium, antimony and thallium, as well.

Bottom Line
In short, the bill would allow states to waive any standards - including the obligation to clean up badly polluted drinking water - by simply deciding they are "not needed" for coal ash management, according to the Environmental Integrity Project. And that when states make those decisions, the EPA must defer to them—"which means that bad state decisions cannot be reversed, even if they jeopardize public health."

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More about coal ash and EPA
EPA Opens Public Comment Period on Coal Ash. What Happens If It's Not Regulated as Hazardous Waste?
Regulating Coal Ash Could Create 28,000 Jobs
600 Coal Ash Dump Sites Found in 35 States: Is There One Near You?
EPA Claiming Coal Ash Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Two Years After the Tennessee Spill, Coal Ash Still Pollutes Nationwide

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