"Based on industry reports submitted to the Toxics Release Inventory, the waste disposed of by power plants over that three-year period contained more than a billion pounds of arsenic and other toxic metals that are concentrated in the residues from coal combustion," the report said. "About a third of those toxins in coal wastes were dumped in ponds, and the rest in landfills."
Soon after taking office, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson promised that her agency would publish a proposed rule before the end of 2009.
When Jackson did issue a proposal, in June 2010, EPA officials did not settle on a particular strategy. Instead, EPA sought public comments on one approach that would regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste, with nationwide regulations, oversight and enforcement, and an alternative that would leave actual regulation mostly up to the states. EPA has not finalized either approach nor provided a timeline for when it might do so.
In Congress, coalfield legislators -- led by Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va. -- have pushed for a measure that would block the EPA from instituting a strong national coal-ash regulatory program. Reps. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., are co-sponsors of the measure. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is co-sponsoring a Senate version.
McKinley has promoted his bill by saying, "For the first time, we have a solution for the safe disposal and reuse of coal ash under federal oversight."
But in a report issued earlier this month, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service disagreed.
The report concluded it was far from clear that states would do a good job regulating coal ash, a "level of uncertainty" that "defeats the purpose" of the legislation. The report also noted the legislation "provides no federal backstop authority" if states don't act appropriately, creates a program without "detailed regulatory standards," and no deadline for states to ensure compliance.
"The Congressional Research Service has confirmed what we've known all along," said Lisa Evans, a coal-ash expert with the group Earthjustice. "Congress must get out of the way and let EPA do its job."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.