Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduce Coal Ash Recycling Legislation

Measure Will Help Preserve Jobs, Protect Local Oversight, Hold Down Energy Costs

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), and John Boozman (R-Ark.) today introduced the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act of 2011, legislation that will ensure the safe and effective disposal of coal combustion residuals, a byproduct of coal-fired electricity generation that is also recycled as a valuable building material. 

Under this legislation, states could set up their own permitting program for the management and disposal of coal ash that is based on existing EPA regulations to protect human health and the environment. States will know where they stand under this bill, since the benchmarks for what constitutes a successful state program will be set in statute. This is a states-first approach that provides regulatory certainty. 

Hoeven outlined the new legislation on the floor of the U.S. Senate today in Washington, illustrating his comments with photos of Bismarck State University’s National Center of Energy Excellence and a rendering of the new North Dakota Heritage Center expansion, both of which incorporate recycled coal residuals in their construction. 

“North Dakota is a good example of how states can manage the disposal of coal residuals with good environmental stewardship, and at the same time, allow for beneficial uses like building roads, bridges and buildings that are stronger and less expensive,” Hoeven said. “Just as importantly, this legislation helps to preserve valuable jobs at a time when the nation so very much needs them.” 

“Years of research have shown that coal ash should not be regulated as a hazardous waste. Doing so would only force unworkable requirements on our state's utilities, resulting in serious economic consequences and the loss of good-paying jobs,” Senator Conrad said.  “While coal ash must be handled properly, there are less burdensome regulatory options that still protect public health and the environment and can be administered by state programs.”  

“This bipartisan legislation will prevent serious government overreach that would negatively impact utility consumers, workers and our economy,” said Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. “It’s just another example of an out of control regulatory regime that has created uncertainty and threatened job growth in everything from farming to manufacturing and mining. By some estimates, the regulations EPA are proposing for coal combustion byproducts would eliminate 316,000 jobs over the next 20 years and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.  Ohio’s economy, which is already struggling, would be heavily burdened by these regulations.  This legislation, supported by a broad coalition of job creators, will provide a common sense framework that balances our economic, environmental, public health and energy security needs.” 

“This bill paves the way for states to manage coal ash in a safe, effective manner,” said Sen. Michael Enzi of Wyoming. “It is a serious legislative effort that takes a unique approach to fixing a problem that industry and the states want to address.” 

“The bipartisan support for this commonsense legislation is so strong, and has been building for a long time because overregulation of coal ash by the EPA would threaten vital industries, as well as needlessly cost West Virginia and the nation more jobs - neither of which we can afford," Senator Manchin of West Virginia said. “This legislation gives us a commonsense fix: let each state use existing EPA health and environment regulations to set up their own permitting program that allows them to recycle and reuse coal ash. This approach will protect jobs and our economy, and give families and businesses the certainty they need to help restore confidence.” 

“This is a commonsense approach to protecting jobs for hardworking Americans by empowering states to both protect our environment and keep electricity affordable,” said Senator John Boozman of Arkansas. 

Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska pointed out that his state has 100 percent public power, meaning every utility customer in Nebraska purchases electricity from a public power, rural electric or municipal utility.   

“This legislation will help control rates for every Nebraskan who pays for electricity,” Senator Nelson said.  “It will prevent the implementation of new repetitive, burdensome, and potentially expensive EPA regulations, keeping the regulation of coal ash at the state level.  Local control helps Nebraska’s publicly-owned utilities and municipalities manage their coal ash byproducts in a way that is cost-effective while ensuring the continued protection of human health and the environment.”   

The legislation is prompted by the EPA’s proposal to regulate coal ash as hazardous waste. Coal ash is a byproduct that has been safely used for buildings, roads, bridges and other infrastructure for years under state regulations. The agency’s new rule would add additional costs to recycling companies and power plants, thereby increasing the cost of electricity to consumers. 

The bill will set up a state permitting program for coal ash under a section of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) that would ensure sites have the adequate groundwater monitoring, protective lining, and properly engineered structures needed to protect communities.  

“This legislation represents a reasonable new approach to environmental law – a states-first approach,” Hoeven said. “It ensures good environmental stewardship, while helping to preserve jobs and ensure that a beneficial product is made available for worthy uses. Just as importantly, it ensures that Congress and the states hold the reins of environmental policy.”