Ellspermann pushes against EPA energy rule

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

Last week the

U.S. House of Representatives voted strongly in favor of a bill that would

prohibit federal oversight of coal ash. The bill was sponsored by Rep. David

McKinley (R-WV).

For nearly two

years, NUVO has followed the course of a long-running argument about coal ash,

the toxic-metal-laden byproduct of burning coal for electricity. An EPA

decision on how to handle the waste has long been in the works. The recent vote

by the House could put a halt to a decision before the EPA is finally able to

make a ruling.

A Congress

desperately seeking to curb what they term federal overreach and neuter the

Environmental Protection Agency is gaining momentum for getting this

legislation passed as law.

North Dakota

Senators John Hoeven (R-ND) and Kent Conrad (D-ND) just days ago introduced a

bill into the Senate that is identical to the House bill prohibiting the EPA

from regulating coal ash.

Both the White

House and the EPA oppose these bills, but President Obama has not said he would

veto the bill if it were to reach his desk.

The impetus

for this kind of legislation comes from a nation panicked about the economy,

specifically jobs, and politicians scared of losing their own. It is the

contention of many coal industry advocates that federal regulation of coal ash

would mean higher utility prices and an effective strangulation of the coal ash

recycling industry.

The bill's

sponsor, Rep. David McKinley says, "To those who lack compassion and

understanding about the real world — these are real jobs at stake here

— it's really that simple."

Supporters of

coal ash regulation contest the notion that stricter rules on its disposal

would make jobs disappear; a Tufts University economist even claims that

regulation and the corresponding increase in expenditures for disposal, waste

management and construction of new facilities would actually create close to

30,000 jobs.

This is a

feeling echoed by organizations like Earthjustice which have stated that the coal

and recycling industry is not as fragile as some would have the public believe,

suggesting that tougher standards for disposal would lead to increased

innovation for recycling, a positive for the ash recycling industry.

Job-creating

or not, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) had this to say about the proposed legislation:

"I think it would be disastrous to turn our back on air and water

[protections] in an effort to create jobs."

With the bill

the states would be responsible for rules on how coal ash is handled. This is

something the state of Tennessee was in charge of when an insufficient earthen

dam burst at the Kingston TVA power plant, letting loose 1 billion gallons of

coal ash sludge, filling streams and swallowing nearby homes. The cleanup

effort for this spill has cost about 1.2 billion dollars.

There are

close to 140 sites around the nation with contaminated ground or surface water

from coal ash contamination. With the recent action of Congress, this problem

may not be going anywhere.

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