Ellspermann pushes against EPA energy rule

The ash lagoon at IPL's Harding Street power plant.

A U.S.

Senate effort is underway to block more restrictive federal regulation of coal

combustion — and its ash-pond byproducts.

The

legislation comes on the heels of a retaining bluff collapse in Oak Creek, Wis.,

which sent coal

ash

spilling into Lake Michigan, which provides drinking water to more than

40 million people.

The "Coal

Residuals Reuse and Management Act," or Senate Bill 1751, sponsored by Sen.

John Hoeven, R-N.D., would block legislation instituting federal regulation of coal

byproducts. The U.S. House of Representatives passed

an identical bill

last month.

Currently,

coal combustion is regulated by state policy and inspection.

In 2008, a coal

ash spill that covered 300 acres in Kingston, Tenn., cost the Tennessee Valley

Authority $1.2 billion in clean-up.

The

disaster prompted President Barack

Obama

to propose rules for the 678 coal ash ponds that could possibly

contaminate drinking water supplies.

In the U.S.,

about 131 million tons of coal ash are produced each year by

coal-fired power plants.

Since

coal contains levels of arsenic, chromium and mercury — among other

things — it cannot be dumped or stored where rainwater can leach the

metals and move them to aquifers.

In most

cases, when large quantities of coal ash are stored, it's stored wet to prevent

dust. The result is coal ash ponds, which are susceptible to breaching and

leaking into other water supplies.

Supporters

of the bill say that it would preserve jobs and would save the U.S. between

$1.7 billion and $5 billion per year over 20 years, according to research by

the Edison Electric Institute in Washington.

"This

bipartisan legislation empowers states, and just as importantly, it helps to

preserve and create jobs that our nation so badly needs," Hoeven said in a news

release last month about the bill.

If the

bill were not to pass in the Senate, supporters say that it would cost the coal

industry more than $110 billion over two decades.

Sen. Dan

Coats, R-Ind., supports the bill.

"The

EPA's narrow ideological agenda is negatively impacting Hoosier families and

businesses," he said in a news release. "More harmful federal rules will not create jobs, bring

down energy prices or encourage American energy production."

In

Indiana, the coal industry provides 3,083 jobs.

"Hoosier

employees are asking Washington to loosen the grasp of government regulation,"

Coats said. "As the president travels across the country selling his own jobs

plan, his administration continues to impose regulations that eliminate

American jobs."

Those

opposed to the bill say that without coal combustion regulation, there is a

severe risk of harmful pollutants reaching drinking water supplies.

"Coal ash

ponds are threatening hundreds of communities and their drinking water

supplies," said Lisa Evans, a lawyer for the activist group Earthjustice.

"The current approach in Congress is to ignore the problem and hope it goes

away."

The EPA

recently completed a survey of the water sources that run the risk of having a

disaster like those in Wisconsin and Tennessee.

According

to their findings, three Indianapolis-area power stations are at high-risk for

an incident similar to Oak Creek.

Eagle

Valley Generating Station had one high-hazard pond, while Harding Street Power

Station had two high-hazard ponds, according to a study by the EPA.

"For

every day this House has been in session, there has been a vote to curtail EPA

protections. That is absolutely unconscionable," Evans said. "Too many

Americans live near toxic coal ash dumps and unless federal action is taken

soon, another TVA disaster is just waiting to happen.

"We

shouldn't have to wait for more destruction or loss of life to act."

Sen.

Richard Lugar, R-Ind., has not yet made a public comment regarding the bill.

At this

time, representatives from EPA's Region 5, which includes Indiana, declined to

comment.

"It's not

appropriate to comment on pending legislation at this time," an EPA

representative said.

It is likely that the Senate will vote

on the bill by the end of November.


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