Southern Republicans launch sneak attack on coal ash regulation through budget bill

The House is expected to vote as early as today on amendments to a budget bill that would take away the Environmental Protection Agency's power to regulate toxic coal ash as a hazardous waste.

Reps. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and David McKinley (R-W.Va.) have offered amendments to a continuing resolution on the budget that would prohibit any funding of an EPA rulemaking on coal ash under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which regulates hazardous waste.

Last year the EPA released a long-awaited draft rule that proposed regulating coal ash -- the toxic waste produced by coal-burning power plants -- under either RCRA Subtitle C or Subtitle D, which applies to ordinary household waste.

The Subtitle C rules would set federally enforceable minimum standards for coal ash disposal and require the closure of dangerous coal ash ponds like the one that failed catastrophically at a TVA plant in eastern Tennessee back in 2008. However, electric utilities oppose the Subtitle C regulations, citing their expense. They want the EPA to regulate coal ash less strictly under RCRA Subtitle D, which would leave oversight up to the states and allow polluters to continue to dump coal ash in unlined ponds and landfills.

Earthjustice attorney and coal ash expert Lisa Evans writes about the sneak attack on coal ash regulation at her organization's blog:

There is no doubt that these amendments will totally derail the EPA's ability to move forward with the coal ash rulemaking. The amendments will render it impossible for the agency to consider the best science on the toxicity of coal ash.

Evans calls the effort by Stearns and McKinley "a compromise of our health on a grand scale." She is urging citizens to contact their congressional representatives and tell them to leave regulation of coal ash up to EPA.